Almost four years ago, I moved to an area across the street from a park that had a four mile trail along the Chattahoochee. I walked or ran that trail several times a week for the year and a half I lived there, often with Tiger or Brock (or both) in tow. I knew its every twist, anticipated its every turn. I could anticipate the areas that would become impassable with rain and the sections that would crack and split in the heat of the summer. I was one with the rhythm of that trail, every step metered to match its demands. I could traverse its terrain almost subconsciously, as its topography was etched into my brain.
Once we moved, my almost-daily visits to this particular trail trickled to once every couple months. On one visit, not too long after the relocation, I stopped short on a particular section of the path. The trail used to continue straight ahead, dipping down into a creek where you had to cross over carefully placed stones, before climbing again on the other side. On this day, the trail in front had been disguised, tree limbs and stones dragged onto its packed soil to dissuade use while a new trail, still rough and somewhat undefined, veered off to the right and wound around the peak, meeting up with the old trail on the other side of the creek.
I resisted the urge to blaze ahead through the old, familiar trail. Instead, I tentatively took the new route. It was narrow, even treacherous in places, as it had yet to carry many feet along its virgin soil. It felt awkward traversing this new path within a known hike. Alien. It forced my brain out of its subconscious attention into a more focused space. I had not learned where every root or every rock lie in wait to catch an unsuspecting foot. I didn’t know which rocks across the water were secure and which only offered the illusion of a firm foothold. I felt myself slow as I paid attention to every detail until I was back on familiar ground.
With each visit, that new section of trail became more worn and more defined as the old trail slowly disappeared into the woods. Today, I realized that the old trail was indistinguishable from the surrounding woods; the only way it exists now is in the memory of those who have walked its path. And the new trail is now wide and firm, secure where it was treacherous and explicit where it was was subtle.
It’s uncomfortable when our paths are rerouted. It’s natural to resist the change. Walk it enough, however, and what was new and uncomfortable simply becomes the norm.