Trail of Hope

By Annette Gulati

Trail of Hope

My future glistened in the distance like a desert mirage. After twenty two years raising three children, I was about to be introduced to an unfamiliar concept: the empty nest. Apparently, this was now my time; my time to dive into new experiences, develop new hobbies and explore the world. It was time to reconnect with my husband and give my writing career a fresh jolt of energy. Why, then, was I not sparkling with anticipation?

My oldest child had just begun life on her own; the other two were attending college 1100 miles away. I missed them all terribly. My husband and I had sold our home and moved to a neighboring state for a job opportunity. Since we were living in temporary housing, I hadn’t yet met neighbors or any new friends, and most of my colleagues were only accessible through an

internet connection. I began to feel isolated. After a few feeble attempts to plunge excitedly into this new nest, I gave up hope. I felt lost, empty and not quite sure how to move forward.

My husband had a simple suggestion: exercise. When we discovered a trail within a short ten minute drive from our apartment, we were thrilled. We began to use it regularly.

The paved trail meandered along a river lined with shrubs and towering trees. Mallard ducks lazed on the riverbanks. Robins perched in the treetops. Canada geese flew overhead. Often, a blue heron stood motionless on a rock in the center of the river. At dusk, small rabbits hopped across the pathway, then skittered into the brush. One evening, a beaver diligently collected sticks, and then disappeared with them downstream. These small snippets of nature provided me with a peaceful distraction, but only slightly lifted me out of my malaise.

Still, I continued to walk the path.

The trail was often filled with fellow walkers, joggers and bikers at all times of day. “On your left,” the bikers would shout as they zipped by us and continued up the trail. Some were single riders. Some rode in groups of two or three. Some toted children in attached seats or hauled them behind in trailers. They were young and old. They were thin and not so thin. On every walk, we spotted something new – unicycles, tandem bicycles, adult-sized tricycles. One Saturday, we were astonished to see a homemade, automated race car speeding down the trail, and on another, a man with a prosthetic right leg sailing by us effortlessly.

I’d come home after a walk feeling vaguely different than when I left.

Was it simply the fresh air and bright sunshine? Or was it the heart-pumping, endorphin-releasing exercise? I had a hunch it was something else entirely. But I didn’t know what.

The trail lured me back.

I began to take a longer look at my fellow trail users – a dad and two sons riding their scooters; a young husband and wife teaching their daughter how to ride her first two wheeler; couples, young and old, holding hands, chatting as they walked; generations of families taking evening strolls together; joggers, huffing and panting, as they raced toward that sixth, seventh, eighth mile and a woman doing Tai Chi on a platform next to the water. Not to mention the dogs – a plethora of breeds, sizes and temperaments all took advantage of the trail.

These were just ordinary people doing the same thing I was doing – exercising and spending time with loved ones. That’s what I thought. But I’d return home with a smile on my face, my excursion replenishing something I seemed to have lost. How could something so simple, so uncomplicated, alter my outlook on life? I couldn’t get enough.

I returned to the trail again and again.

As I walked, I’d peer into faces and listen for snippets of conversation, my eyes hidden behind my sunglasses. These people spoke French, Russian, Hindi and and numerous other languages I couldn’t understand. They represented all races and cultures, and I became fascinated with the lives of these strangers – who they were, where they lived, how they were related. Most of all, I thought about their stories. Surely they had stories. What challenges did they face? Did any of them feel lost and empty? How were they moving forward?

One cloudy morning, I hiked up the trail, determined to find answers, or at the very least, inspiration. After thirty minutes, I turned to head back the way I had come, slightly disappointed that the trail held very little for me that day. Until I saw her. An elderly, grey-haired woman clasping the handles of her walker. She sprinted by me in the opposite direction like a marathon runner. I turned around to catch another glimpse of this one-woman wonder. She was definitely moving forward. She wasn’t letting anything hold her back – certainly not her age. 

That’s when it hit me. Nobody was.

Not the man with the prosthetic leg. Not the toddler taking his first steps. Not the two young boys casting their fishing lines into the river after the sun had already disappeared. Not even the group of four new mothers, tired though they may have been, standing in front of their strollers and counting aloud to their babies’ delight. Everyone seemed to be rushing headlong into life. Rushing with optimism, clarity, and determinedness.

My fellow trail users were pushing past whatever challenges they were experiencing. Why, then, was I not doing the same? My nest may have been empty, but it didn’t have to be a vacant hollow forever. As I walked toward the car, remembering the elderly woman’s energy and enthusiasm, I made a decision. I would rush home and fill my empty nest with abundance. Like the strangers-turned-allies on the trail, I wouldn’t let anything hold me back. I was ready for the glittery future that stretched before me.

About this writer

  • Annette Gulati is a freelance writer living in Seattle, Washington. She has published more than seventy five stories, articles, essays, poems and activities in numerous magazines and newspapers. Visit her at

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One Response to “Trail of Hope”

  1. What an inspirational essay, proof that it is the simple things that make a difference.

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