We instinctively think hiking happens in the outdoors, but on this morning’s hike it occurred to me that the experience is actually happening indoors: inside our consciousness. Everything that happens to us on a hike reflects our ability to perceive via sensory organs. We’ve only got five senses; I’ve often wondered how cool the universe must be to beings lucky enough to to have, say, seven or eight.
The limits of perception reminded me that while our consciousness can cleverly guide us through the craziest terrain, not everything we perceive is especially helpful to our hiking lives. The confusions of civilization create a lot of wrong turns.
My best example: My New Year’s resolution was to hike someplace new every weekend. My main motivation seems ludicrous now: I mostly wanted new stuff for my hiking blog, and I wanted more “I was there” dots on my map of North Carolina hikes. But here’s what would happen: I would drive six or more hours each time and spend most of the next day writing up a blog post full of pictures, GPS tracks and other stuff that made it all a huge chore.
This was way too much work for the few hours of admittedly wonderful hiking I was experiencing.
Meanwhile, another consequence of hiking in the mountains was that I felt compelled to join a gym to get in better shape for more rugged hikes. Well, I improved my cardio on a Treadclimber, but I lost those moments of hiking-in-the-woods wonder I experienced in my morning walks in the park across the road.
So this morning I was over at Tanglewood just before sunup and walked out upon a fog-blanketed meadow and said “damn, I’ve never seen it like this before.” As I walked the sun sneaked up behind the trees, revealing the picture I took above. Not the greatest one I ever took, but not bad, considering it didn’t cost me two tanks of gas for a round-trip to the Blue Ridge.
If you’re thinking, “hell, Tom, the only reason I come here is to read those hike write-ups,” well, sorry. I’ll probably keep doing them but it won’t be every week. Monthly maybe.
Middle of the Year’s Resolution is to keep it simple: Inspire people to hike.
You can find all you need to know about everyplace worth hiking somewhere on the Internet. But what’s missing is somebody saying “here’s why you need to tune out all the crap and get out there in the woods.”
Perhaps the worst tendency of the Internet is to reward novelty above pretty much everything. If it’s a baby setting her mother’s hair on fire, it’ll be all over the Web; if it’s you finding 30 seconds of clarity on a trail 10 minutes from your back porch, well, sorry, the Web doesn’t give a shit.
But I do.
So here are a few (hopefully) inspirational thoughts:
- So you’ve hiked that same greenway a hundred times and can’t imagine anything interesting ever happening there? Go anyway; concentrate on seeing something you’ve never seen before. Then stop looking. That’s when you’ll see it.
- So you think you can’t hike without $600 worth of fancy gear? Picture in your mind the one place where it doesn’t matter what kind of gear you take. Go there.
- So your hiking club goes too fast and can’t pause to appreciate nature? Start your own club, appoint yourself president, name your cat vice president for membership and hike by yourself.
That’s enough for today; need to save some for future posts.
- Toward building a hiking brain
- Mindful hiking: going with the flow
- 6 ways to get more hikes in your life
- It’s OK to be a day hiker, really
A few of your more recent posts are showing up on my Win 7 box with IE 9 improperly. Opens fine in an older version of FireFox. Basically, the pictures in the left sidebar that are part of Top guides by Two-Heel Drive” are “full size” in IE but are really small in FireFox. Not sure what they are like in ie8. Anyway, just thought I’d pass that along if you care. If not, the site is wonderful, the content great, and I know how to work around the issue! Thanks for all the great info.
Sean: thanks for the heads up.
This post is spot-on, Tom. Great stuff.
There are a few of us out here who also care about those 30-seconds of clarity. Not a lot, but a few. Breaking through the “accumulating I was there dots” barrier is a big deal and a sign of growth, I think. I’ve been transitioning out of that phase for a long time with my own hiking and it feels really good to slow down, drop the “gotta bag that peak!” attitude, and really start to clearly SEE stuff. Of course not everything you see is pleasant, but that’s part of the process, too.
That last bullet point, “hike by yourself”, is the primary sticking point that prevents most people from attaining the state of perception you’ve been talking about in the last few posts. Getting to the point where you can hike alone comfortably without being afraid or bored is something few people ever reach.
Del: Maybe that’s tomorrow’s topic: why group hiking is an illusion.
Sounds like your going all John Muir on us. That’s a good thing. I’m enjoying the posts as always.
I meant to comment on this post yesterday and forgot. I can relate to what you are saying here. Since I am a creative type and a lover of fine art photography I am always looking for a new angle even in the same places! I can walk at the same locale multiple times and see something new every time. Too me it is not always the destination, but the journey. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
While hiking I love to mull over what I am experiencing that is not “sensory”. How about thoughts? Mood? Keep wandering down that path a ways.
Or focus on a sense. “Smell the roses” has lost its meaning – find it again. I stop, close my eyes, roll a sage leaf under my nose, then open my eyes again to see the world anew.