Why Do I Hike (part 2)

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

Time. Identified and quantified by human beings, it is not an ideological construct. Time is inexorable. It is always and forever. Relentless.

Each of us has a beginning. Each of us will reach our own end. These events are marked by a moment in time. We influence the between.

Time As A Companion

I lift my head and exhale frustration. The top is not yet visible. My legs are rubber and sweat tickles my brow. The grade of the terrain, dotted by large rocks, is a challenge to my resolve. In response I narrow my focus. Head down. Dig my poles into the ground. Feel the burn in my shoulders. Step. Inhale. Dig. Exhale. Walk.

I crest the mountain by sheer will. I remove my backpack. A stretch, arms reaching to the sky, brings into view a floating cloud passing between a small opening in the forest canopy. I slowly ease down onto a nearby log. A sip of water carries the cool taste of pleasure. This simple thing is a satiation, difficult to replicate in the midst of my daily routine in the concrete jungle. Why does water taste so refreshing at this moment in time?

On the trail my accomplishments are easy to measure, and rewarded with simple pleasures. Distance covered. Mountains ascended. The rope for my food bag slung high at my campsite with the sun still above the horizon. A satisfying meal. Relaxing in my tent to a good book. Chilled hands wrapped about a warm cup of tea.

In nature I can do the impossible. I can slow time. It becomes my companion, converse to the societal challenge of time management. Hiking in the wilderness, for miles on end, I am bound not to a schedule, but to my own desires. My happiness in nature is derived from the simplicity of life on the trail.

My Gulf

I own and run a coffee shop. It is my single favorite career choice. Ever. The rewards far outweigh the challenges. So many things about this have brought me happiness.

I am not content with idleness when living my everyday life. I will inject chaos into my routine to prevent anxiety, or a descent into depression.

I can not control the external influences of society. I can only react. These influences are thieves of my time. They are not equal in amplitude. Positive or negative, they are always present. Always stealing time.

I often create these external influences. Injecting tasks which lead to unattainable schedules. The irony of this is the creation of the thieves of my time. This touches on my defining self; a gulf from the society which surrounds me.

My Time

Just beyond Wesser Bald, on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, is a point called The Jumpoff. From here it is a 2,300 foot descent to the Nantahala river, covering four miles. As I stood enjoying the views this point provides, I grimaced at the thought of what lay ahead. The tops of my feet had been worn to red rawness.

This would mark the last leg of my return to the Appalachian Trail. I first ventured onto the AT in 1985. I would hike it off and on through college in southwest Virginia. An overnight trip in the late fall of ‘89 would end up being my last backpacking trip. The years that followed as a member of the Marine Corps would provide other “backpacking trips.” I would not do this again, for myself, for another 26 years.

An early morning in late July, 2015, I stirred within a tent at Wesser Bald Shelter. Portions of my feet had stuck to my sleeping bag. I did my best to cushion them with a few bandages, and then gingerly eased into my socks. I was paying for the ill fated decision to wear my old desert boots. A 27-plus mile AT section hike, by myself.

Each step in descent brought driving needles as the tops of my feet were jammed into my boots. Less than halfway down I expelled frustration to the surrounding trees. Nearer the end I could hear the rushing sound of a river, and the echo of vehicles passing through a busy intersection. Hundreds of feet yet remained. More razor sharp pain. Sound can travel a good distance up the side of a mountain.

Now I am reclined on a bench at the edge of the Nantahala river. My boots elevated, sipping on a soda, I am filled with a sense of accomplishment. There will be plenty of walking the remainder of the day. I have to purchase supplies to ready a cabin before my family arrives. The following day we all will return to this same river for a rafting adventure. There will be no more pain. Not that afternoon. Not the next day.

My Influence

The sun’s descent spreads a burst of orange, extending beyond my frame of vision. The time required to set, from the point when the bottom of the red disk first touches the distant ridgeline, to its obscurity, can be measured and recorded. It is perhaps a figure equal to an observer in the city during the same November evening. In nature this does not feel equal.

Life on the trail does not make me oblivious to time. Often I will seek a schedule. I prefer to be packed and walking before the sun has cast a shadow. In nature time is my companion. I am able to use time as a means to my own ends. Or I can choose to ignore it. In nature I become the greatest influence on my time.

A thin line of dark orange remains. I stand in silence. My exhale is barely visible from the deepening dusk. I place my hands in my pockets and press my arms into my ribs. I am tempted to turn and find warmth. I resist a moment longer. A calm evening with a clear view is rare in the mountainous wilderness. It is a gift from nature. A moment in time chosen by me.

About The Author

My name is Jerry. Trail name is Monsoon. In addition to running a hiking club, I also own and operate a coffee shop & bookstore. Check it out here.

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