My friend and I are on a yoga / hiking retreat in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, eager to start the weekend off with a night hike. We’re staying at an AMC lodge where the guides usually lead you on walks around the lake, up mountains, and hut-to-hut in pure daylight, with the occasional night stroll thrown in. This year, no night hike is scheduled, but that doesn’t stop my friend and me. The youngster at the front desk tells us we can rent headlamps, so we loop around Saco Lake to get the lay of the land in the light. “What was that?” we ask, looking at each other and watching leaves fall through the trees to the ground; they have never sounded so loud. After a hearty dinner and research on bear apps (you can laugh, but we saw a bear here last year), we return to the front desk for the all-important night lights.
“I’m so sorry, but we don’t rent headlamps,” says the new guy on duty who has a charming accent we peg as French, that turns out to be Israeli. I guess it’s the kind of thing they like you do with guides when you’re in the middle of dense forest rife with bears, fox, and moose, the dark coming on and temperatures falling.
We look at each other and decide to give it a go anyway. We are brave. We are fearless.
“The moose are rutting, so give them a wide berth if you see any,” he says.
My hope is that we do not have to give any moose a wide berth. My friend is hoping that clapping will ward off any bears. We are not so brave. Not so fearless.
We walk outside and just a few feet from the lodge and its lights we’re stunned by the stars. I suddenly need to go to Montana to see the night sky in pure darkness after the campfire is out, with a horse snuffling nearby.
We walk through the field trail, realize we’re veering off into the tall grass, and feel our way back to the path and the road. It takes us an embarrassing amount of time to cross the road to get to the lake because only an occasional headlight zooms by to illuminate the way. We fumble toward the trailhead and stumble down the uneven gravel path and look into the trail, seeing absolutely nothing. Just darkness. The blackest black you’ve ever seen. We take a picture, providing a moment of illumination. We try to download a flashlight app, because this is the new nexus of nature and technology, but someone forgets her password to the iTunes store.
We pause a beat too long, think Blair Witch Project, and turn back immediately. Only we cannot run back because it’s too dark and too dangerous, and instead, we crawl-run our way back across the road to the warm, well-lit beacon of the lodge where there are comfortable, knowable places, like fireplaces and beds. Reading may not be adventurous, but it sure is a hell of a lot more inviting than the abyss. And there are no bears under the bed. Or moose. I checked.