We haven’t been conquering as many new locales lately, as it’s the winter months. There’s usually only a few places in the Hills that, reliably, get enough snow to really enjoy winter sports, so we’ve got a few, typical haunts that we frequent for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. (I’ve mentioned some of these in a previous post.)
The lack of snow is especially evident this year, as the predictions seem to be holding true and we’re enjoying a fairly warm “cold season”. There’s been a dearth of snow this winter, so, even in the higher elevations, good, deep snow can be hard to come by. We were “shoeing” on a trail in the Eagle Cliff area last weekend–one that we’ve enjoyed several times before–and were surprised at the lack of snow in some places. During previous winter adventures, in this same area, we’ve had to fight through thigh-high snow. It’s not unusual, during the winter, to have to step over the gates that divide the land parcels in this area as the snow is so high. This year, the gates opened easily (the snow isn’t even high enough to keep them propped open) and we even saw some bare patches of ground! In the seven years we’ve been enjoying the winter season in the Hills, we’ve never seen so little snow this time of year. The conditions felt more like the spring melt that usually starts somewhere around March.
Since I don’t have any new adventures to delve into, instead, I’m going to discuss the incredible feeling of accomplishment that comes in finishing what you started, regardless of how many tries, trips, or years it takes to accomplish that goal. 😁
This past weekend we, finally, completed several sections of various trails in the Eagle Cliff area. We’ve enjoyed parts of these trails in previous years–sometimes skiing, sometimes snowshoeing, sometimes biking–but we’ve never, fully, connected them all. In the past, we failed to complete the entire loop as we’ve always turned around due to being tired, being cold or losing the trail.** This time, however, we started with the Hamburger snowshoe route (who comes up with these names?! 😝); took that to Lily Park trailhead; then continued on to Holey Rock. We then looped back to the Bratwurst ski trail and brought that all the way back to our starting point–not to worry, we stayed off the ski trails. (Another group had, kindly, already blazed a snowshoe trail alongside the main road that we were able to follow. 😁)
**As much as we love the Eagle Cliff area, we’ve frequently lost our trail up there. This has occurred both in the summer and the winter months and has actually been worse in the summer (the tall grasses don’t do much to suggest a trail. At least in the winter, there are, oftentimes, other tracks to follow!) We’ve never gotten lost to the point of being in trouble, we were always able to retrace our steps and find our way back. Sometimes too, we’ve been able to spot the valley we were seeking from a ways off and reach it via off-trail routes. I do believe some of this was due to poor signage, the old maps were difficult to read and often sun-faded or an inaccurate match with the current trails that year. The new ones seem far more clear, the trail blazes on the trees also seem to be closer together and better marked. It could also be that we’re finally getting comfortable with the area as we’ve completed so many of the trails.
A few weeks ago, before Christmas, we were able to fill in a gap in our hiking accomplishments. We completed the Willow Creek/Rushmore trail (trail #5,) all the way to where it meets up with the Harney Trail (trail #9, the hard way). This is really just a connector trail and not that big of a deal (though it’s a nice trek with lovely views). It’s just such an accomplishment when you complete these various challenges. The Willow Creek-Rushmore trail was one I’ve been wanting to complete for years. Every time we’ve hiked the difficult Harney Trail (trail #9), we’ve always used the Willow Creek turn-off as a bit of a landmark to watch for. So, to finally connect the two was such a delight! (This accomplishment was especially exhilarating as it was already getting snowy up that way and some of the knee-deep snow was a challenge to hike through–we hadn’t taken snowshoes that day as the lower elevations didn’t have any snow and we didn’t know how much we’d be encountering.)
The point to discussing all this is that, if there’s a difficult or lengthy trail (or set of trails) you’re interested in, but they seem too challenging or long for you to accomplish in one sitting, complete them in sections. It still counts as mastering the entire monster, even if you don’t do it all in one try! Start from one end and try to make it halfway. Then, on another occasion, start from the other end and make it halfway again. You just finished the entire thing, even if you only ever did half a section at a time!
I have a few personal examples of this in relation to local trails in the Black Hills. The Trekkers are aiming to hike the whole, 111-mile long Centennial Trail that traverses the entire length of the Black Hills. We also want to bike the entirety of the Mikelson Trail, the 109-mile long, graded, gravel path that spans the Hills, from north to south. It follows an old railroad grade, leftover from the Gold Rush days of yesteryear. It’s taken us seven years, but so far we’ve completed over half of the Centennial Trail and almost the same amount for the Mikelson.
With trails that are quite lengthy, numerous trailheads, often, split them up into more manageable sections. Completing one several-mile section every few months is far simpler than attempting an entire 25-mile section all at once. We’ve even split up sections before. There’s a 14-mile section in the middle of the local, Mikelson trail, that we’ve just never been able to finish all at once. We HAVE completed it using the “halfway method” starting from each direction, though. This technique is also a good way to keep your spirits and enthusiasm up. It’s much easier to stay motivated if you’re not trying to psych yourself up for a crazy excursion, but instead, a fun, one-day outing.
The point is, you don’t have to be a marathon recreator. It’s perfectly reasonable to be more of a “sprinter”, who feels a five-mile outing is a perfectly acceptable definition of a “full day”. When you’re out on the trail you aren’t competing with anyone or anything else (with the exception of Mother Nature, of course). Your only rival is yourself. So, don’t compare yourself to others. The only thing that matters is that you’re improving your skills, your strength and your health–both mental and physical–along with it. The other caveat is, of course, that you’re having fun! As long as you’re getting out, connecting with the natural world, working off the steam of any built-up, negative energy, and you’re accomplishing the goals you have set for yourself, that’s the only thing that’s really important. You’ll find achieving goals is also quite the confidence booster, as you’re pushing yourself and meeting challenges. (If you are the marathoner-type person who can go out and accomplish 20 miles at one sitting, mad points to you too! 😉)
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and accomplish some goals!