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I was in a down mood. I was tired. My weight was up. And it was STILL Pennsylvania in winter despite what the calendar and the groundhog said. I wanted to go out, I needed to go out, but I didn’t want to battle the remnants of ice and snow. And I didn’t feel like pushing myself.

Where to hike? I thought. I considered Black Rock, but its TOO flat and TOO lacking in challenge. My local parks were still snow covered and perhaps too ‘technical’ for how I felt at the moment. Then I remembered Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center, a few miles south of Reading. Many of the trails are forest roads, wide and flat and climbing. And I was off.

The fact the forest roads exist reflect Nolde Forest’s unique history. The entire six hundred some acre park was once barren, stripped of trees aside from a single pine. A century ago Jacob Nolde made his fortune in Reading manufacturing hosiery, and purchased the land for his home. Rather than confine his vision to socks and stocks, he brought in foresters to replant the entire tract. Five hundred thousand pines were planted, and forest roads and fire breaks established based on the current best practices of forestry. The Nolde mansion was built by Jacob’s son Hans later, and now serves as the office and education center of the park.

I’d seen the mansion on my previous trip to Nolde, and this being a Sunday the home was closed. So I parked at the sawmill ruins along Angelica Creek and headed to the Boulevard Trail. There was some snow and ice, but not so much I cursed its existence. I did place my steps carefully.

And I got out of breath. These were forest roads, but they climbed, and I was wearing a pack for the first time since June. I had to let the hip belt out a little more. The two and a half miles were exhausting, and a good indication I have a LOT of work to do.

This is what a fat backpacker poses with when he wants to make light.

This is what a fat backpacker poses with when he wants to make light.

On the way back down the Boulevard Trail I switched to the Watershed Trail, one of the many connecting paths throughout the park. The Watershed runs alongside the Boulevard and repeatedly crosses Angelica Creek. The stream bounces from rock to rock, fall to fall, as it rushes through the park. I delight in such creeks, and I couldn’t resist photographing the tiny waterfalls.

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My back was sore, I was tired, and I was ‘fat and scant of breath’, but I had a good time. Any time experiencing the outdoors is good time. And as I sat in the car warming up and sharing photos on Facebook, I was hit with the truth I knew and I forget. A post told me my friend Tom, an outdoorsman who spent his last years fighting illness that left him indoors and tied to machines, had died.

Our life in this world is fleeting. We need to make the time count. Staying indoors and not experiencing what nature has for us isn’t what we are made for. Tom’s story, which I’ve written and paid tribute to elsewhere, demonstrates that. Yes, I was down that I was fat and not as physically able as some of my friends, but the outdoors is for everyone regardless. And my time, and yours, is limited. I’m glad I spent the afternoon amid the pines and water and rocks and snow. And I hope to as long as I have days.