I followed her tracks.
The muddled path in the Colorado snow revealed her story. She’ll never know that I followed her, but most women don’t realize that the difficult path they walk makes it easier for those who follow.
The first mile was filled with city folk who come up to tell their friends that they hiked in the mountains, but more than likely, it was just a short walk in the woods.
The next mile revealed tracks that turned around and I couldn’t blame them. The late spring snow was too wet for snowshoes and high enough to creep over the top of your hiking boots and make your socks stick to your skin. Each wet step pulled on your legs like in the dreams where you can’t run. But, then I saw that the tracks became one. A narrow size 8 and ½ hiking boot print walked alone from the crowd. She was the first one through this morning and her tracks were fresh. The snow falling off the branches had not had a chance to erase her passage, so I followed.
As I followed her stride, I wondered what brought her out this morning to hike this mountain trail alone? Are you walking to pull yourself together after being ripped apart? What solace are you seeking? Why walk this trail when you can pull the sheets up over your head and pretend the problems will go away? The questions are rhetorical because I am walking your path too.
Your path reveals slow and tiny steps as the path gets steep and slippery, yet you move forward. I can see where you slipped and the handprint that kept you from falling. At the top of the long challenging climb, I can see where you stepped off the trail to take in the view. I know in that moment; you knew it was worth it. To get yourself out of bed and put one foot in front of the other because the only person who can get you to the top of this mountain is you. And it’s worth the pain.
I can see your stride lengthen on the way down. There was a spot where you must’ve set your backpack down to pack your jacket because the sun was shining and you no longer needed all those layers. It feels good when you can remove the barriers.
I too followed your error as we got off the designated trail and even though there were no signs, we just knew something wasn’t right. The terrain didn’t look right and there was no clear path ahead. I saw your tracks make a general turn in the right direction. And then suddenly, you made a sharp turn right and we were back on course again. We had to walk an extra mile, but the relief of knowing where you are is more intense after you’ve been lost.
Eight miles later, your path entangled with the others again. I was still high on the switchback when I caught sight of you. Hair in a ponytail and despite the miles, a bounce in your step. I know what you went through and I feel lighter too.
For the last two miles, your tracks were lost among the others. You blended in, as we all often do. But we all have our unique path, even if we follow others.
Erika Armstrong is the author of A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT and her articles can be found in seven national aviation magazines. From the front desk of an FBO, to the captain’s seat of a commercial airliner, Erika has had the honor of following in other women’s footsteps. She hopes she leaves a clear path for others to follow. If you want to share your trail, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org