The road less traveled by made too much of a gasping difference

Many years ago, poet Robert Frost penned the famous lines, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

Bob, buddy, I know what you mean. I got lost too. A wrong turn, and wrong turn there, and next thing you know, you’re muttering, “I took the road less traveled by and now I have no clue where I am.”

I’m not sure I’d brag about it making all the difference, though:

“Bob, where were you? The meeting started three hours ago.”

“Well, see, there was this wood, and I zigged when I should have zagged. I tumbled down a ravine, slipped on a rock crossing the stream, and brambles shredding my clothes. When it came to getting here on time, well, that made all the difference.”

I found my road less traveled by — a thin, meandering trail, really — on a trip the other day in a state park in Kentucky.

I’ve been walking on roads and city blocks. It’s interesting enough, but one still runs the risk of having to actually talk to people. I prefer solitary wooded trails.

Oh, sure, there’s the conventional wisdom: “Never hike alone in bear country. Always hike with someone you can trip and outrun.”

Bear sightings are rare in northeast Ohio.

When I heard the twig snap behind me, it occurred to me that I’d never asked about bears in Kentucky. I heard it was Wildcat country, but I thought they meant the college basketball team.

Bear or basketball player, I beat it out of there, which probably is how I ended up on the path less traveled by.

The other thing that made all the difference was hills. It’s pretty flat in my corner of Ohio. This park had hills. Steep ones. With more rocks and roots per capita than recommended by the USDA, the USPS, the U.S. Surgeon General and IRS and nine out of 10 dentists.

It looked so easy and level on the map at the park office. But now I was at the bottom of halfway to somewhere, wheezing and gasping as I stumbled up to — I hoped –the parking lot.

I was surrounded by the resplendent beauty of nature but kept my eyes on the ground right in front of me. And my ears on the twigs behind me.

Every now and then, I’d also notice a post where a sign used to be. Signs would have been helpful on the path less traveled by. Not bear signs, mind you, but signs with arrows that declare: “This way out!” and “Helicopter rides to the top!”

I pondered my decision to hike alone. True, as one philosopher put it, “The closer you are to nature, the further you are from idiots.” Unless you’re the idiot who’s lost.

That’s the thing about the wilderness — it’s mostly empty. If you go hiking with people, always take a compass. As one hiker observed, “It’s awkward when you have to eat your friends.”

Then I saw them: A family of three and their dog casually strolling on an adjacent trail that was about to converge with the one I traversed. They didn’t seem stressed, panicked or freaked. Nor did they show the courtesy of breathing hard.

Kentuckians. They did this every day.

“Ex … huffa-huffa … cuse me … puff, puff … I’m old, tired and … heeza, heeza … uh, lost. … wheeze, wheeze … Can you tell an Ohio boy which way is … gasp, ugh … out?”

“Sure thing. Hop right across this swaying bridge, jog straight ahead on that trail, scamper up that bitty hill, and you’ll pop right over the crest into the parking lot.”

I assure you, there was no hopping, jogging or scampering, but I did crest the mini-mountain into the parking lot, where I collapsed and tried to remember how to breathe.

“What happened?” a passer-by asked.

“I took the road less traveled by, and that made all the difference.”

Take a hike with Cole at burton.w.cole@gmail.com or the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.


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