Alright, it was supposed to be “moderate,” my guidebook also promising a trail hiked by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Herman Melville.
Importantly, a trail with an 800-foot elevation gain. But as I studied the large, plastic-shielded map at the trailhead a middle-aged, baseball cap-wearing man approached and said,
“Where are you from?”
“South Carolina,” I replied.
“Where in South Carolina?”
“Beaufort,” I replied not wanting to take my chances with “Port Royal.”
“My first cousin is Jenny Sanford,” he said.
For a moment my mind jumped to former Governor Mark Sanford and I considered discussing his trip down the Appalachian Trail. But then realized that I came to Monument Mountain to hike and not to discuss the flaws and frailties of the state where I was born.
“Tell me about the trail. I’m 76 and my wife is 75. Can we make the ascent?”
“Yes,” he said. “I think you can do the blue trail, the easier trail, rather than the steeper, harder red trail.”
“Tell me more about the red,” I replied.
Life is sometimes radically altered by small, seemingly trivial decisions, Tom (the on-site attendant) had questioned my masculinity, and so I decided on the direct, almost vertical route to “Devil’s Pulpit.”
And so my wife and I began our attempt on Monument Mountain just outside Stockbridge, Mass.
It got steep almost as soon as we departed the parking lot — so steep that I broke into a sweat that soaked the “Mobjack Music Festival” T-shirt that I had carefully selected for this hike earlier that morning.
As we climbed I looked for the “highlights” promised in my Appalachian Mountain Club Guide ($12.95).
“Soon a waterfall and cave will appear on the left. The falls are small and are most impressive during the spring runoff or in winter when they are transformed into a still life of ice.”
“On the top of this white mountain the two (Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville) spoke about a great white whale. To a large degree it was Hawthorne’s influence and continued support that helped turn Moby Dick from a great sea story into a masterpiece of mankind’s lonely journey in the borderland between good and evil.”
But as the 800-foot-elevation-gaining hike maintained its vertical profile, I must admit I lost interest in the small waterfalls and in mankind’s lonely journey between good and evil. Mostly, it became five minutes of boulder-to-boulder climbing followed by 10 minutes of gasping, dizziness and occasional nausea.
Fortunately I did not vomit, or turn back, although I definitely thought those outcomes were possible. Eventually Susan and I reached “Devil’s Pulpit after a “short scramble to the summit.”
We spent an hour or so atop the mountain celebrating our small victory with a Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, 2020) paired with a dozen Triple Ginger Snaps acquired at Trader Joe’s in Westport, Conn.
As we sat on the ancient quartzite outcropping sacred to the Mohican Nation, we could see Stockbridge, Lenox and Mt. Greylock in the distance. As we sat, sipped and contemplated the Taconic Range in New York state, we did not know that someone (still unknown) was smashing our driver-side window and taking Susan’s purse containing our credit cards, social security numbers, vaccination certificate, driver’s license and coupon for a free draft beer at Bright Ideas Brewpub in North Adams.
As I poured a second round of wine we did not know about our forthcoming interview with the Great Barrington police officers, the calls to Visa or the fact that we would instantly go from tired euphoria to tired outrage when we saw the shattered window.
And, yes, I know that most of our injury was humiliation; and that we were victims of the random crime that afflicts most places in America — although I kept repeating to the officer, “But this is Massachusetts!”
But what I resented most was the fact that this incident would dominate our memories of August in the Berkshires. This incident would crowd out the other hikes, short drives into Vermont, and our wonderful, wine-infused conversations in small New England pubs.
But sometimes this is the way life works and the trick, I think, is not to feel guilty about what happened. Yes, Susan could have carried her purse; and I could have parked the car closer to the attendant, but she didn’t and I didn’t.
Now it’s time to move on and get the window fixed.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.