Sarah Sindo was locally grown in Millinocket. Her love and appreciation for the outdoors took off after college when she hiked numerous mountains with her brother, Nick, including her first ascent of Katahdin. Sarah left her desk job eight years ago, stepped into seasonal work and hasn’t looked back. She bounces back and forth between Millinocket and Kingfield and looks forward to sharing her adventures and encouraging others to step into their hiking boots.
I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was slowly gnawing at me for the entire month of December. I was feeling a bit restless, but who doesn’t during the last month of the year, I asked myself numerous times.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were a blur and I unconsciously put doing activities that keep me sane and happy on the back burner. Or maybe I had forgotten what those fun activities were. Where did they go?
New Year’s came and went, and while I don’t commit to resolutions, I do try to view the new year as a reset, an opportunity to take inventory of the past year and reflect, as well as plant a seed or two for the upcoming 12 months.
Yet I was still struggling to put these pieces of the puzzle together. One recent evening, my partner was scrolling through Netflix, trying to answer the laborious question, “What do we watch now?” He stumbled upon a documentary called “The Alpinist.”
This film had been on our radar of movies to watch when it was released but, for some reason, never made it to the screen until now. We hit “play.” The 90-minute film ended, and I felt an internal shift, like a light bulb went off.
First, let me back up a bit. About a decade ago, I was living in Vermont. I was getting my feet wet in solo hiking, and my brother and I were doing a lot of hiking in the Adirondacks. The summer hikes morphed into winter hikes.
Winter hiking was an entirely different ballgame, and I was hooked. Gaining vertical feet in the winter, while still arduous, felt a smidge more effortless compared with summer hiking. For me, when I hike a mountain in the summer, it’s like I start sweating even before I hit the trail. By the time I reach the summit, I’m literally a hot mess and can’t wait to switch out t-shirts.
I discovered hiking in the winter season scaled that experience down a bit, and I was a huge fan. Fast forward, I moved back to Maine and started work in the outdoor hospitality field. While I spent a good portion of my working days outside, my hiking days became almost nonexistent — without me even realizing it.
Back to the light bulb moment. Post-film, I could hear myself recalling how and why these outdoor adventurists love what they do and what keeps them returning to the mountains and the outdoors. I thought to myself, “Is this what I’ve been missing?”
For the past eight years, my life has had a different, yet still fulfilling, focus than what it had during my time in Vermont and the Adirondacks. A seed had been planted.
Get back to hiking, I told myself. Get back to fully being in the present moment. Get back to putting in the effort, to being uncomfortable. Get back to standing on a summit and realizing that effort is what made the journey more enjoyable in the end.
Don’t get me wrong. Hiking in the winter isn’t the easiest time to get outdoors. I’ll acknowledge that right away. This is where the effort piece comes into play. It’s not as simple as throwing on a pair of shorts and t-shirt and heading out the door.
It’s thinking about temperatures and layers, footwear, keeping your extremities warm, and sticking to a turnaround time, no matter what. Putting in this kind of effort is what makes you feel accomplished and proud of yourself in the end, whether you make it to a summit or not. Simply getting outside during the cold months can be invigorating and refreshing on so many levels.
Snow transforms the landscape. After a fresh snowfall, everything is different. It’s like a clean break for your eyes, and possibly even your inner world. It’s an opportunity to make fresh tracks, to soak up how the light dances on the white floor and sparkles as it does so. You get to experience your world in a different way, in a new view. These are all reasons why I fell in love with winter hiking.
For me, the seed has been planted and I invite you to tag along on the journey. Maybe even plant a seed yourself. We have all been through two years of a global pandemic, and it’s possibly feeling like a heavy load to carry.
Add in the fact that it’s January, which can be a weird, in-between kind of month, and one might be feeling the intense reality of what we are living through right now. Let’s get outdoors and feel the immeasurable appreciation we have for this essential space right out our back door.
I live in western Maine during the winter, so I am fortunate to have many hikes and peaks within a short drive. My hope as I water my seed is that it grows into mountain hikes with bursts of shorter, more frequent, walks outdoors among the trees.
If winter hiking simply isn’t in your hand of cards, try an armchair adventure. Get cozy with an adventure novel and let it transport you until you can get outdoors and go for a hike.