Last year, I published a book about a walk across Scotland. Rain, of course!, was a central character in my narrative, and by no means always an unpleasant one. Sure, sometimes the rain on that Scottish trek was inconvenient or uncomfortable but, mostly, I don’t mind walking in the rain at all. If you accept that you are going to get damp (that’s damp, not wet through) and that the big views will be blurred at best, you can get on with enjoying the rain’s restful patter and the water features it brings to life in the landscape.
But let me be honest. When I have the luxury of choosing my day for an outing, I look for that dazzling-sun-in-azure-sky icon in the weather forecast. Why? Mostly because, despite ample experience to the contrary, I still assume that sunny, sharp-focus scenes will be the most rewarding, both at the time and relived later in memory and photographs.
So, planning a hike this month, I was disappointed to see the black-cloud-and-pelting-rain icon for the only day I could get outdoors. But then I remembered that raindrops and mist and puddled earth are just another of nature’s benign moods, and I headed for the woods.
The woods were the Devil’s Den, 1,756 acres unevenly divided between Weston (most) and Redding (a few corners). You can take a decent hike in so many acres and my plan was to make a loop, by and large, of the Den’s outermost trails, a familiar circuit of about eight miles. Entering the puddled Pent Road parking lot, a first advantage of walking in the rain manifested itself — the lot was empty. Let me mention another advantage; thanks to the rain or its accompanying cold, I wasn’t bothered by a bug all day — and this in the full riot of spring.
Throughout my hour-long walk up the Den’s east side, the clouds and the trees dripped; but it wasn’t a soaking rain and my waterproof pants stayed in my pack (though I’d protected the pack with its waterproof cover). Warmed by activity, I soon stopped to shed a layer and open the armpit zippers of my jacket—no point in keeping the rain out only to soak from the inside!
Forty-five minutes into my hike I came to a familiar place where a stream flows out of a swamp and under a simple trail bridge. The stream ran abundantly among stones dressed richly in moss. Otherwise, on this sunless day, the color in the landscape came from the luminous green of new foliage, aquamarine lichen on rain-washed boulders, and a fleeing deer’s dirty white tail.
I reached the high ledges in the Den’s northeast corner. At the first, the east wind gusted for a few moments and I fancied I could smell the cold, gray Atlantic on its moist breath. Approaching the second ledge, in Redding now, the rain abruptly intensified and I stopped to put on my waterproof pants. I have stood on this ledge and admired, under clear skies, the blue waters of Saugatuck Reservoir below. Today, waters and sky were gray and all outlines blurred; but the view was no less pleasing.
Although I have hiked the Den for two decades, I sometimes still take a wrong turn in its northernmost, least familiar acres. Today, coming off Redding Great Ledge, I lost the trail entirely and wandered into an unvisited corner of woods. Disoriented, I retraced my steps and thereafter succeeded in following my intended course — trail marker post 61 to post 56 by the longer option, then to 80 via the Deer Run and Bruzelius trails.
At post 80, Cedar Cliff Trail begins, surely among the Den’s least-used paths. There’s a short side-trail off Cedar Cliff leading to a secluded ledge. I thought I might eat lunch there but, realizing I’d walked right past the side-trail, could not summon up the enthusiasm to turn back. There was, I knew, another ledge — a rock-floored break in the woods, anyway — not far ahead. There, I did stop to eat, and began at last to feel damp and cold.
I doubt there is any gear, whatever its price tag, that will dependably keep the hiker bone dry. However good your fabrics, some moisture will get in, and there’s little you can do about condensation and sweat. At lunch and on the return trek down the Den’s west side, I began to feel the effects of a cold, wet day and damp shirts. I wasn’t shiveringly, miserably cold, just a little uncomfortable and ready to be warm and dry again. But then, nearing the finish line, a full, black river flowing beneath spring foliage reminded me that I didn’t mind walking in the rain at all.
Rob McWilliams, a local resident, is the author of “The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain: A Walk from Cape Wrath to the Solway Firth.” Contact Rob at “McWilliams Takes a Hike” blog and Facebook. He’d love to hear from you.