Exploring the Natural World

Why Hike

Over the years, I’ve narrowed down my hiking goals to three: wellness, inspiration, and understanding. If I feel lazy and overfed, for example, my motivation will be to get off my duff, get my body moving, and work the accumulated blubber and sluggishness from my bones and mind. These reasons I lump under a “wellness” goal. If I’m mentally down in the dumps or experiencing any sort of debilitating brain-lock or malaise, I decide I need a healthy dose of “inspiration” to clear the cobwebs from my mind and reinvigorate my spirit with the zest that mother nature can instill. Finally, when (not if) I’m feeling puzzled or confused regarding a particular question of great importance, I ease myself out the door and begin a thoughtful plod in any direction to gradually enlighten myself to better “understanding.”

Beyond myself, I often find one, two, or all of my family members (or friends) falling into the bad patterns of laziness, sluggishness, or malaise, and to help them recover and reawaken I’ll suggest or request we head out together into the natural world where the promise of adventure awaits. And that is often the key word that motivates—Adventure, with a capital A—even though to journey on an “adventure” proves only a pretext to breaking suction and taking action. The ultimate payoff is actually in one or all of the found treasures: wellness, inspiration, understanding. Providing the journey encounters no major failures, the hiking party usually returns feeling physically great, spiritually awake, and mentally refreshed. And what’s more, there is pride in having done something very simple yet also extraordinary.

Yes, many other activities can profit us similar rewards. But hiking offers several unique elements that few other activities can match. The most vital of these elements flow freely from the mother of all sources: nature. Most of our daily lives brim over with technological innovations designed to make things easier on earth (for humans), or more enjoyable (again for humans). Too often the innovations serve only to separate us completely from the natural world, and the resulting state of our existence suffers in ways we find difficult to pinpoint. Why do I feel blue when all my green has purchased me silver and gold tinsels designed to make me feel improved? Why do the walls keep closing in? Why does the stuff I’m paying for fail to fill my ever-expanding emotional voids? These are tough questions to answer when caged. My answer, based on many trials and errors, is to simplify. Always simplify. And then simplify further. When we begin paring off the extraneous garbage that infiltrates our lives, we often quickly find ourselves standing (though hopefully not completely naked) outside our cages and in open spaces. We long to breathe the freshness of mother nature’s air. Our five senses seek natural inputs that do not smack of man-crafted innovations. What exists and occurs naturally has a simplicity that our bodies and minds long for, by biological evolution. Nature makes us feel “right” with the world, and balanced from within.

The cost to hike is minimal. As an endeavor, hiking ranks as one of the most cost-effective. I can leave my house at any time, without needing to purchase any gear, and take a hike around town. Often I’ll find that such an off-the-cuff outing becomes an unexpected joy with unexpected benefits. Perhaps I walk along the bike trail for several blocks to where a canopy of trees encloses me and seals me at peace from the hustle and bustle of nearby traffic. Soon my walk takes on a livelier step, as birds and squirrels twitter and chat, and the music of moment invigorates my soul. I paid nothing for this concert, and, furthermore, I have the arena almost to myself. When other humans approach, I keep moving, keep maintaining my personal space. Before long, I’m hiking with purpose: to escape the noise and chaos of intrusive strangers. I’m hiking to find more birds and squirrels, to view the trees they call their home, to spy woodchucks diving for cover as I approach, to view muskrats and beavers skimming through the water of a pond. By the time I return home, I’m ecstatic that I went for all that I’ve witnessed, and for the benefits of swift movement, and for the fresh air that I breathed, none of which cost me a dime.

Hiking helps us find common ground with others, a challenge we all face from time to time. Our society, though theoretically civilized, is undoubtedly very polarized and at odds a great deal of the time. Even with our family and friends, we find divergent interests. Yet we almost desperately seek to agree on ways to come together. No, I’m not talking about world peace. I am talking about achieving peace at home. Harmony, too. Like many others, I frequently struggle to engage my closest allies in productive activity that all of us find agreeable. I pick this, they pick that. Yet when all else fails, a simple hike succeeds. People can be motivated to walk, if nothing else. And so by default we begin with that. “Let’s go outside and walk up toward the (blank) or down to the (blank) or (blank), and we won’t exert ourselves too much. How does that sound? Can we do that? Let’s shut off the T.V. and go.” Okay, and so we depart. Within no more than several dozen steps, most in the party are stepping with chins up. See one frolicking squirrel and suddenly our enthusiasm rises. Before long, we find we’re moving with what I call a purposeful intent (to spot more squirrels), and at that point our walk has become a hike, which is more productive common ground. Life is good.

In my romantic youth, I visited England, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. With much to see, but having limited time and budget, what do you image I did for kicks? Well, as it turned out I did what most other tourists seemed to be doing: I hiked around and saw the sights. I remember hiking the streets and parkways of Paris. I remember hiking in Pisa and Rome. I remember hiking to the castle Neuschwanstein. Wherever I hiked, I hiked with a companion. And together we had a grand adventure. After my romantic youth (which I realize is a relative concept), I’ve visited dozens of the most cherished places in North America, likewise with cherished companions. In the U.S., we call these vacations. And what activity do you image we engaged in most? If you guessed “driving,” you are correct. But once we arrived, we usually found ourselves hiking. National Parks, National Monuments, Historical Places. But also cities and towns, where getting to the attractions involved getting there on foot. Some just call it walking. But to me, if the journey holds promise and excitement, it is a hike. As long as your feet can move you, wherever you are, you have your means of wellness, inspiration, and understanding.

All of the above are excellent reasons to hike.

About Bob Ward

In addition to nonfiction, Bob writes a fiction series featuring outdoor travel hero Kip Stone of Epic Adventures, Inc. For details, visit BobWardBooks.com.

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