I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I have often found myself struggling to answer the question, “Why do you hike?”
It’s not because I want “get away.” I’m a hyper-connected person. I email, facebook, and twitter constantly. I can hardly take the elevator from my computer down to get lunch without pulling out my phone to check messages that might have come in in the last thirty seconds. When I hike, I’ll pull out the phone to snap a photo, and might even stop to upload it (hey, sometimes you need a quick break after a climb). The notion of disconnecting sounds appealing, but this summer I spent a week on an isolated dude ranch in Montana (which was amazing, btw), and I will confess it was a challenge to be unable to get online or use my phone for that week, enough so that I considered taking the two mile walk to the main road to get some cell reception.
So that’s not it.
I like the activity of hiking…getting my heart rate up, working up a sweat, getting the endorphins flowing. And I like that activity better than the same in a jog, or on an elliptical or doing a spinning class.
I like the air on a hike. It’s better — cleaner — than the air in the city, or even in a town, where there are automobiles and houses and just…man-made stuff…all over the place.
I like the people I encounter when I hike. They’re friendly, into the activity, but will say hello and observe the niceties of the trail (uphill has the right of way) better even than regular commuters respect the unspoken rules of commuting.
I like the beauty. Hiking can get you to places of spectacular beauty that you just can’t find any other way. Oh, fine, here’s one of my favorite hike photos of all time:
I like the sense of accomplishment, when, after a long hike, or a difficult climb, I can look back and say “I did that. And I did it well.”
I like the quiet of nature when I find myself alone. It gives me time to think in a way that I don’t always take the time to do. I know myself better every time I solo hike.
And none of that really answers the question why. Those are things I like about hiking. The real answer, it seems, is this:
I hike because I like it.
It’s something I choose to do for me, for no one else. It’s a deliberate choice to put something important to me, for however brief a time, above fulfilling work and home obligations, making time for others, and dealing with all the stuff that supports everyday life (laundry, dishes, paying bills, etc.). It’s deliberate, and because of that, it adds that intangible something to my life. It’s me choosing a way in which I want to live my life.
So that, when I come to die, I will not discover that I have not lived.
Why do you hike?