Why Do I Hike (part forever)

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

-- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Rain will arrive soon. I know this. Not from a distant rumble. This will be a stealth approach. It is early October and the evening is warmer than expected.

I look to my right, searching the slope above, and spot the side trail which led me to camp. They should be here by now. I finish spreading out my sleeping bag, zipper the tent door, and grab my hiking sticks.

As I reach the higher portions of the side trail, near where it intersects with the AT, a twig snaps and leaves are scattered by the step of a hiker’s boots. Instead of my hiking partners a young man appears.

“Hey, how’s it going? Did you happen to pass two young ladies on your way here?”

“Yeah man. About ten minutes back. They were sitting by the side of the trail laughing. Couldn’t miss ‘em.”

Dimples form at the corners of my mouth as I return to my tent. I grab my food and cooking equipment. Then I pause and gaze up high, through an opening of the forest canopy. Rain is definitely coming. But they have time.

We think the dogs caused him to jump from his shelter in the deep foliage. The largest black bear I have ever seen. Black bears are afraid of humans, and even more so of dogs.

The dogs continued down the trail oblivious as we paused to watch. He ran further up the slope and turned left to hide behind a large boulder. A few seconds later the beautiful face of a black bear crept from the other side.

Noting our continued presence, he sprinted from the safety of the rock, straight up to the ridge line. At the top he turned to give us one more look. Perhaps concerned we were giving chase. Ears straight up. Eyes wide. His face was straight from a cartoon. Curious and fearful. He possessed the cuteness you might find in a stuffed toy.

Then he was gone. It all happened in seconds. No pictures of substance were captured. The face of this gorgeous animal is forever burned into my memory.

The pavement radiates through my boots and warm air washes over my face. I shift to the shade and remove my backpack to retrieve my keys. I consider whether I should change into dry clothes, or wait for a bathroom at a restaurant.

There are no cheering crowds at the end of a long hike. Just a road. A parking lot. Your car. Or a face behind a wheel to give you a ride. The pride you feel remains internal. Whether it was 16 miles, or 40 miles, or you walked the whole thing. The celebration is yours alone.

The salt from a french fry contracts my cheeks. A sip of soda sends fiz bouncing from my tongue to the roof of my mouth. This is my reward.

We live in a society saturated with products designed to make us feel better. Yet this abundance often serves to inoculate us from gratitude. Reconnecting myself with the simple process of living is a healing force. In nature I carry only the minimum required.

Home. I remain in the shower longer, hot water massaging my neck. I am further rewarded with my favorite meal. I remove my hiking clothes from the dryer and begin packing for the next trip. A thankful warmth radiates my body as I nestle into my soft mattress.

A week later, full pack, the thump of heavy feet on packed dirt, I am just as happy as when I returned home. Nature welcomes me differently upon each return to the trail.

On the cosmic timescale we are not even a negligible dot. We live on a celestial body floating in empty blackness. Yet our home, our planet, produces miracles. Life. I crave a life connected with my planet. Earth is nature, and it is our home. On the trail I am closer to nature.

Nature has become my bridge to appreciate life on a deeper level. A cold sip of crystal clear water after hours trudging up a steep mountain. A hot meal while leaning against an old oak. Life on the trail, deep in the wilderness, allows me to reacquaint myself with gratitude.

I am the narrator of my life. The time allotted to us to write our story can be infinite, or it can last a second. We get to choose the setting. We choose our time.

My coffee has cooled enough for a sip. A songbird calls in reply. Mayhaps he sings for a mate. My chest expands as I warm my hands around the aluminum cup, expelling an exhale which resembles a sigh. It is a sound of contentment.

There is an audible stillness deep in the forest during the morning gray. This might be the only place on Earth where there is real magic. The moment is never long. A deep gray, well before the sun breaks the horizon. This is when I hear life stretching awake.

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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