The Funologist – The wall

By Sandra Dee Owens

Have you ever hit a wall that you couldn’t climb over?

For years I told myself (and anyone listening), that I was going to begin a personal challenge of skiing the length of Vermont on the Catamount Trail – but I never did.

Years before, while backcountry skiing with a group of girlfriends, one gal recounted skiing the entire length of this Nordic ski trail in Vermont’s wilderness.

Fascinated by her tales of endurance, determination and winter wonderlandness, I felt a deep longing to ski the length of my beloved state.

But for 15 years, all I did was talk about it – a lot.

Have you ever told yourself and others, about something you want to do – but never do it?

Well, finally, on my 55th birthday I realized that the longer I hesitated, the harder it would be for me to complete this journey, and it was time to get unstuck.

So, I took some time to think about it and discovered that I was afraid – afraid of getting lost.

But I knew that fear was a poor reason to abandon dreams, so I bought a Catamount Trail guide book and envisioned fear as a wall I needed to climb over.

Created in the 1980s by then UVM students Steve Bushey, Paul Jarris and Ben Rose, the Catamount Trail is a 311-mile Nordic ski and snowshoe trail stretching from the Vermont/Massachusetts border to the Canadian border.

Excitedly, I flipped through the guide book and, reading one of the 31 trail section descriptions, immediately recognized a problem.

The description was full of grown-up, navigation words – and no pictures.

“Head north northwest and follow the VAST trail steeply uphill for 0.2 miles. Turn right (north) and begin a 1.5 mile up & down traverse more or less on the contour to reach Huntington Gap.”

Reading a page full of words that my safety depended on I experienced the same anxiety I do when reading an owner’s manual or doing math – my brain slammed shut and my armpits dampened.

As an avid, winter outdoors woman, I felt confident that I would gain trail fitness along the way, but I was far less confident in my default “dead reckoning” navigational skills, and after spending a few hours with Murray McGrath of the Inn at Long Trail, working on map, compass and orienteering skills, my un-confidence grew.

These skills are learned through practice and experience over a lifetime, and I didn’t have that kind of time – or interest.

Have you ever thought you weren’t as smart as others?

Now that I understood how my brain did not want to learn, I needed to understand how it wanted to learn. So I considered what grade in school I had felt the happiest, most connected and smartest – kindergarten.

Then I contemplated when I first felt lost, nervous and behind – first grade.

I remembered that everything in kindergarten was a game. Every task and activity was short, colorful and fun, and it was easy to learn when having fun.

I remembered the whole body struggle of being seated in indoor classrooms with textbooks devoid of images, and though I finished high school and even some college, my best learning environment had always been outdoors – experientially.

So I went to the Catamount Trail website and copy/pasted a trail section description into a Word document.

Reading each sentence slowly, I deleted all unnecessary words, enlarged the font size and added brightly colored warnings like TURN RIGHT NOW!

Adding numbers, I printed my notes and cut them into narrow strips, sealing each with clear shipping tape to water/snowproof them.

Folding them into the breast pocket of my jacket for on-the-go access, I placed reading glasses, compass and the CT guidebook in my pack for back-up.

Working with my brain, instead of against it, allowed me to begin this long-held dream. Later that winter, swishing along the Catamount Trail, I noticed I had retained many details from the trail descriptions while creating my notes. I was having so much fun making them, I had not noticed I was learning.

Just like kindergarten.

On this multi-winter journey, I feel my physical strength, skills and confidence growing stronger, and the fear that kept me from starting it growing weaker.

Has fear ever created a wall between you and your dreams?

For more information on the Catamount Trail visit

For more information on Sandra Dee Owens visit

Read all the columns in the “The Funologist” series by Sandra Dee Owens.