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I Don’t Like to Hike

May 20, 2015

The other day I took an epic hike in the Columbia River Gorge. It felt great to be a part of nature again, to reconnect with the silence and solitude of the forest. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made a point to step away from my busy city life to embark on such an adventure.

Wait, strike that.

The other day I fueled up my gas guzzler and drove thirty miles in order to walk five. I parked in line with several hundred other guzzlers and joined a horde of hikers. Colorful poop-bags and discarded wads of toilet paper lined the path. The only sense of adventure I found was when I stripped off my pants in the parking lot. And, wading barefoot across a glacial runoff stream, sharp rocks bruising my tender feet, it occurred to me I had become far more apart from nature than a part of it.

This is the legacy of automation and specialization: our minds and bodies don’t receive the stimulation they need over the course of a normal day, so we have to make up for it with exercise or sports or trips to the country. This is not a judgment. It’s just how the modern world works. If we don’t move around enough to stimulate our endorphins, we crave adventure. It’s why the parking lot was full in the Gorge. It’s also why the trail was littered – we’ve strayed so far from our connection to the earth we don’t even know how to poop without technological intervention.

Okay, that was a judgment.

I turned around before reaching the top of the Gorge. My shirt was caked in sweat, my sides ached, and I was running low on drinking water. I could have made it, of course I could have made it, but I was bored. I’d hiked the trail ten years earlier. It hadn’t changed.

The truth is, I don’t like to hike. I don’t like walking for the sake of walking. I don’t like the sweating, the dull aches, the blisters or the side pains. And most of all I don’t like arriving at a destination only to turn around a short time later to do the hike all over again.

This might sound strange coming from the self-proclaimed Thoreau of the twenty-first century, but I think old Henry David would agree when I say adventure is more likely to be found off the beaten path. Those are the hikes that stand out in my memory: the time I parked in the forest above Bagby Hot Springs and found an alternate route down; the time I got my family lost on the Big Island; the time in New Mexico I climbed up an arroyo looking for arrowheads.

During each of these trips I dealt with sweat, aches, and pains. They all concluded right where they began. But the hikes were exciting because I didn’t know what was going to happen, and that sense of adventure gave the rest value.

When you get far enough away from any path you can reasonably expect to meet people on, the forest changes. You start to hear the silence. You feel the solitude. It’s an entirely different adventure than you get from a day hike half an hour outside of a major city.

Of course there’s a lot of people these days, and if we all tried to get off the beaten path there would soon be no unbeaten path left. Maybe it’s good almost everyone is too busy these days – including myself. Being a modern pioneer, however, my goal is to blend the old with the new. If I don’t find satisfaction in driving to go on a day hike and I need a way to get my body moving, maybe I should walk to the grocery store. Take my reusable shopping bags and do something necessary that’s good for both myself and the environment.

I won’t find the solitude of the forest, but I might just find adventure.

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