Nowhere is boundless and we were in the middle of it. Chilly morning in the Catskills. Vague trail up a remote peak. Thwarted expectations of solitude: a fresh set of footprints already in the snow. Could be anybody, maybe the landowner.
Time passes in elevation gain. Soon enough we meet somebody coming down the snowy trail. He is alone and a big man. Not the landowner. He has no gun. He wears microspikes on his boots. We have microspikes in our packs. Microspikes provide traction on ice.
“Hi,” we say, “do we need microspikes?”
He shrugs. “I’m disabled,” he says. “One more fall and I’m a goner. I’m wearing microspikes to play it safe. I live in Saugerties. I walk very slow. I have joint problems and high blood pressure. Nobody will hike with me. And I have neuropathy here.” He points to his feet. “I can’t feel a thing. Have a nice day.”
He shuffles off down the trail. His walk sounds like a bartender chipping ice.
We decide to play it safe. We pull the microspikes from our packs and put them on. We’re close enough now that we probably need them.