Originally published in the Manchester Journal on Feb. 23, 2018. 

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By Cherise Madigan

Tightening the straps of my snowshoes, I pause for a moment to fill my lungs with the crisp air before departing. Once again, I am a beginner — my body is soft and untrained, and the same can be said of my mind.

Today, it’s Mount Bluff that will mark the beginning of this journey forward.

Leading me through the Equinox Preserve, my route slithers along the Snicket to Mount Bluff, pauses at the pond, and brings me back again along Flatlanders’ Pass. Ascending for approximately 650 ft. of elevation over only two miles, the trail provides the perfect marriage of challenge and brevity for my purposes. Inches of snow have fallen in the night, and the golden glow of the sunrise reaches for the treetops through a blanket of fog. I claim the crunchy first-tracks of the day, and propel myself forward with poles in hand.

Whie many find enjoyment in snowshoe running, it’s more an endeavor of necessity for me. With the weather oscillating between subzero and springy, the insidious ice lurking below the powder would guarantee disaster without additional grip. The sport requires more stamina and technicality than regular running, and despite snowshoeing’s slower nature it does provide a unique satisfaction. With the addition of poles, and the challenge provided by the elements, the full body workout will leave you simultaneously exhausted and eager for more.

After I’ve traversed only half a mile on The Snicket, however, I’m decidedly more exhausted than eager. Wondering why I dragged myself out of bed on this cloudy Sunday morning, I grit my teeth and push forward toward the bluff. The teeth of my snowshoes also struggle to sink in as the deep powder slides out from underneath them in a teasing fashion.

I struggle to count which new beginning this is; in my running or my life. So often I lose momentum, or grow dissatisfied, and commit to refine my prowess in the art of reinvention. After more than a decade of running and countless races, I somehow can’t seem to break this cycle of forward progress followed by a distinct disenchantment. Yet each time, running finds its way back to me.

When it does, I’m so lost in a haze of determination that any semblance of practicality is lost. So what if there’s the snow is too loose; if I’m out of shape; if my only insulated running pants are nowhere to be found? Today is the day to start.

My legs are cold and damp under cloth leggings that are more appropriate for a day on the couch, and I stop for a moment to laugh at my own stubbornness. I’m crawling more than running now, in an awkward uphill stride that betrays my weakness. The bluff is in sight, but the steepest — and slickest — ascent is still ahead. My snowshoes scrape on hidden rocks as I amble upward, sliding backwards for every step of progress. Eventually the trees grow thin, and the sky opens up to reveal the pond directly below me; much of Manchester visible beyond.

The air catches in my throat, though I can’t be sure if it’s from the vista’s beauty or the cold air. The longer I stop the more I begin to shiver, but I have no intention of rushing. Taking in the view, I’m reminded of why I keep beginning again.

Japanese novelist Haruki Marukami, an ultramarathoner himself, describes running as an apt metaphor for seeking something beyond the daily life. In running we find moments of grace and greatness, coupled with a staggering sense of humility. Lacing up my sneakers, or strapping on my snowshoes, is a gesture that encourages me to persevere. The grueling monotony of each stride reminds me to keep working, while also teaching me the tenacity to endure. And the vista?

I believe that there may be no better embodiment of the beauty to be found in an honest effort.

Once the cold finally gets the best of me, I turn for a lingering look before the descent. Intoxicated with sense of possibility, I’m giddy like a child running downhill towards the pond. Though I struggle to reach the peak each time, I know that this is where I thrive. My poles land intuitively, and my feet find the most solid patches of snow despite accumulating speed. In what feels like seconds, I’ve reached the bottom.

I allow myself to gaze at the pond for only a moment before continuing along Flatlanders; straining to identify where on the ridge I’ve just come from. The exact location remains ephemeral in the fog, but I find that — despite a desire to understand my direction — this doesn’t concern me.

I know that I’ll find my way back there once again.
Reach freelance journalist Cherise Madigan at madigancherise@gmail.com, or on Instagram as @cherisemadigan.

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