By Sandra Dee Owens
For years I told myself (and anyone listening), that I was going to begin a personal challenge of skiing the length of Vermont on the Catamount Trail—but I never did.
Years before, while backcountry skiing with a group of girlfriends, one gal recounted skiing the entire length of this Nordic ski trail in Vermont’s wilderness.
Fascinated by her tales of endurance, determination, and winter wonderlandness, I felt a deep longing to ski the length of my beloved state.
But for 15 years, all I did was talk about it—a lot.
Have you ever told yourself and others, about something you want to do—but never do it?
Well, finally, on my 55th birthday, I realized that the longer I hesitated, the harder it would be for me to complete this journey, and it was time to get unstuck.
So, I took some time to think about it and discovered that I was afraid—afraid of getting lost.
But I knew that fear was a poor reason to abandon dreams, so I bought a Catamount Trail guide book and envisioned fear as a wall I needed to climb over.
Created in the 1980s by then UVM students Steve Bushey, Paul Jarris, and Ben Rose, the Catamount Trail is a 311-mile Nordic ski and snowshoe trail stretching from the Vermont/Massachusetts border to the Canadian border.
Excitedly, I flipped through the guide book and reading one of the 31 trail section descriptions, immediately recognized a problem.
The description had a lot of grown-up, navigation words—and no pictures.
“Head north northwest and follow the VAST trail steeply uphill for 0.2 miles. Turn right (north) and begin a 1.5 mile up and down traverse more or less on the contour to reach Huntington Gap.”
Reading a page full of words that my safety depended on, I experienced the same anxiety I do when reading an owner’s manual or doing math—my brain slammed shut and my armpits dampened.
As an avid, winter outdoorswoman, I felt confident that I would gain trail fitness along the way, but I was far less confident in my default “dead reckoning” navigational skills and after spending a few hours with Murray McGrath of The Long Trail Inn, working on map, compass, and orienteering skills—my un-confidence grew.
These skills are learned through practice and experience over a lifetime, and I didn’t have that kind of time—or interest.
Now that I understood how my brain did not want to learn, I needed to understand how it wanted to learn. So I considered what grade in school I had felt the happiest, most connected, and smartest—kindergarten.
Then I contemplated when I first felt lost, nervous, and behind—first grade.
I remembered that everything in kindergarten was a game. Every task and activity was short, colorful, and fun and it was easy to learn when having fun.
I remembered the whole-body struggle of being seated in indoor classrooms, with textbooks devoid of images, and though I finished high school and even some college, my best learning environment had always been outdoors—experientially.
So I went to the Catamount Trail website and copy/pasted a trail section description into a Word document.
Reading each sentence slowly, I deleted all unnecessary words, enlarged the font size, and added brightly colored warnings like TURN RIGHT NOW!!
Adding numbers, I printed my notes, and cut them into narrow strips, sealing each with clear shipping tape to water/snowproof them.
Folding them into the breast pocket of my jacket for on-the-go access, I placed reading glasses, compass, and the CT guidebook in my pack for backup.
Working with my brain, instead of against it, allowed me to begin this long-held dream. Later that winter, swishing along the Catamount Trail, I noticed I had retained many details from the trail descriptions while creating my notes. I was having so much fun making them—I had not noticed I was learning.
Just like kindergarten.
On this multi-winter journey, I feel my physical strength, skills, and confidence growing stronger, and the fear that kept me from starting it, now grow weaker.
Has fear created a wall between you and your dreams?
For more information on Sandra Dee Owens visit: sandradeeowens.com