“Why do you hike? Isn’t it just…like…boring? What’s the point?”
It’s surprising how often we get asked these questions, or variations thereof. One person once expressed their disdain for it by saying “it’s like walking…but harder.” Well, yeah…?
I understand that hiking isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. It’s easy to see why people hate it. It’s exhausting. You get sweaty, dirty, and smelly. You can get lost. You can twist an ankle. There are bugs. Possibly snakes, bears, and worse. So what do I say when people ask me why? My typical response has always been along the lines of “because I like it,” but I recently put some more thought into it. What is it that drives me to literally go take a hike? There are so many different reasons.
For one, because of unexpected views like these. You stop for a quick break, walk to the edge of the trail, and look down too see a view like this. You know that if you hadn’t decided to take a walk in the woods, you never would have laid eyes on this place. There’s something special about that. These are places hidden away from the rest of the world, with sounds and scents that only those who venture out far enough will be able to experience. This may sound weird, but it is impossible to describe what certain mountains smell like. Sure, I can take a picture in a sad attempt to capture the experience, but there is nothing that compares to being there, with your feet on the ground, breathing in and listening to the nature that is surrounding you. It’s intoxicating.
It’s during moments like these where you pause and realize that there is no one else nearby…for miles. Being so remote that you know you and your hiking buddy are the only people out there? Sure, it’s a little disconcerting at first. Definitely sobering – because you know that if you were to get injured, you’re pretty much screwed. But I’ve come to enjoy those hikes the best – where Chris and I walk for hours and don’t see a single other human, where we lost cell service a few miles back, and haven’t seen or heard a car since before finding the trailhead. It’s nice to know that even in today’s connected world, there are still places where you can find complete solitude.
Of course, hiking isn’t all waterfalls and meadows. We’ve gone on hikes that have been a major pile of suck. Seemingly endless uphills with no redeeming views at the summit? Yeah, those are probably the worst. You ache everywhere, it hurts to breathe, you’re surrounded by gnats and for every step you take you slide half a step back down the trail. Even on those hikes, where I’m questioning my sanity, I still try and find some sort of peace. On those hikes, I tend to repeat the same phrase to myself – “one foot in front of the other.” That’s it, that’s all I have to do today – just put one foot in front of the other, and eventually I’ll get there.
Hiking is the one thing I’ve found where it is exactly what you make of it. I’m an extremely slow hiker. I tend to wander around on trails a bit (Chris is so patient with me), because I don’t want to miss anything. My head is always on a swivel, because maybe this will be the hike where we spot a herd of elk, or see a bear (hopefully far off in the distance). I stop to examine wildflowers up close, and if there’s a weird bug crawling across the trail, I want to see what it is and where it’s headed (unless it’s a spider, and then I’ve suddenly transformed into a marathon trail runner). I love approaching a curve in the trail, because there may be something completely unexpected just around the bend.
Sometimes Chris and I go on hikes and talk the entire time. About pointless things, about plans for the future, or about what we want to cook for dinner that night. Sometimes we go on hikes and don’t say one word to each other for miles. Either way, it’s nice to be able to just walk beside each other, out in the middle of nowhere.
Sure, it’s good exercise, but that’s not the point. The point is being able to find solitude. To go somewhere without knowing 100% what you will experience. It’s an opportunity to just be. To get away from the constant planning, scheduling, and expectations of the day-to-day. To just put one foot in front of the other. That’s why I hike.