Hiking is not just about the physical challenge or majestic views…they are just the tangibles that feed the senses and fuel the passion…it goes much deeper than that…
My love of hiking and the outdoors developed early in life. My first memories of those formative years are exploring the woods of my neighborhood with friends and going on family camping trips. Those experiences planted the seeds of my desire to be outside, which has only grown stronger as I have gotten older. First, with the Boy Scouts and then into college. While in college earning my engineering degree, I took several outdoor experience and wilderness leadership courses and worked as a trip leader for the school’s outdoor program. After college, there was a period of many years where I became focused on work, job changes, home ownership, and all the joys of post-college adulthood.
The outdoor adventures became less frequent. Before I realized it, months quickly turned into years. But the desire to be on the trail did not go away. It only lay dormant, quietly intensifying while my focus was elsewhere. It was during those years of infrequent outdoor activity that I became restless and did not understand why. Eventually, I began to find my tribe; like-minded people who enjoyed hiking and backpacking as much as I did. I started getting back outside with increasing frequency and it was not long before that dormant desire was re-ignited and quickly turned into a true passion. Backpacking has always had a special appeal. It’s a physically demanding but mentally rewarding activity that speaks to me on many levels.
It’s the satisfaction of exploring the world under your own power. It’s the opportunity to unplug from the modern world. It’s the necessity of relying upon your skills and knowledge. It’s learning how to handle unexpected situations and accepting them for what they are. It’s the sense of self-reliance and independence that comes from having everything you need to survive for days on end on your back. It’s the reward of epic views and lush landscapes. All of this combines to create a quiet confidence that I find empowering and immensely gratifying. It puts focus on the things that are really important in life and illustrates just how little you need to be happy.
It’s not just about the physical challenge and majestic views. Sure, those things are important and are what initially attract me to a destination. They are just the tangibles that feed my senses and fuel the passion. But, it goes much deeper than that, almost to a spiritual level. There is a non-tangible element that cannot be detected by the senses. It is felt by my soul. The feeling of connectedness and purpose. A Oneness with the Natural world. It becomes a meditative experience and it’s the reason Hiking and Yoga are so intricately connected in my life (see Why Yoga). In my daily routine, my mind is usually occupied with the responsibilities, obligations, and to-do’s that we all face and must find a way to manage. They are constantly working to capture my attention.
The Buddhist have a term for this phenomenon, Monkey Mind, that incessant internal chatter that leads us into an endless web of distraction. It’s part of being human and impossible to avoid. Resisting it is an exercise in futility. Trying to control it is a sure path to disappointment. We are left with two choices: avoid it or accept it. Hiking is one way I manage the chatter. It is my ‘reset’ button from the routine of daily life. It’s a trigger for what I call the ‘Magic’. That point on a hike at which the chatter begins to diminish, its volume goes down and its grip on me lets go. The internal noise melts away and my mind becomes calm and clear. My body softens and muscles relax. I become present. Present with nature and the rustling of the leaves, the chirping of the birds, conversations with others, the feel of the wind on my skin, or maybe …. just the sensations of my breathing and heartbeat. Time does not matter. I am Alive. My senses are heightened and I have an increased clarity and creativity that I don’t fully understand. But it is real. It is what draws me back to the trail time and time again. This is why I hike.