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[CDT-L] Why do I hike?

Some time ago someone tried to insult me by saying that my trip reports
were "not particularly esoteric".  While I found the statement both
puzzling and somewhat bizarre, it started me thinking about  -  Why do I
hike?  And then - why do I spend the time writing trip reports?  I found
it to be something worth thinking about.  And then the subject came up
on at-l as well.  And then it came up again on another forum. So ---- 

I'm gonna send this to all three lists because there are people on each
list who aren't on the others.  And I think it's a good subject for
anyone who hikes -- on any trail.  

I think the most common reason people go out and sweat their way up the
mountains is the beauty they find there - in the mountains, the sky, the
forests, the streams - and the wildlife.  And I understand that because
I have my own pictures (the ones in my mind as well as the product of a
camera) of times and places in Maine and Georgia and Pennsylvania and
Montana and Arizona and Colorado - and others, many others.  I've lived
for the last 6 years with flashbacks from the AT - and they beat the
hell out of the flashbacks from other times and places.  I know - there
are those who think beauty is found only on the AT - and others who find
it only in the Sierras - or the desert - or the Rockies - or any of a
thousand other places.  But I've found beauty and peace and knowledge,
albeit of different varieties, in every place I've ever hiked, and to be
truthful - in every place I've ever been.  Even the cities have their
own form of beauty. Not a kind that I want to spend a lot of time with,
but still - it's there for those who are not blind to it.  

I've also found physical health out there - I once had major physical
problems (after 25 years at a hi-tech, extremely high stress and very
sedentary job while smoking up to 5 packs of cigarettes per day).  But
most of those disappeared when I started hiking again. I haven't
recovered all the lung capacity from 25 years of smoking - but I've got
enough to be planning another thruhike.  The hiking has also helped in
keeping my weight down.  Yeah, I still weigh too much - but at least my
legs and lungs can still haul it up the mountains. J   What I just said
was - hiking is literally life for me and that if I stop hiking ----
well, let's not go there.  

There's also the emotional/mental health aspect - after a week or two of
dealing with the world that writes my paycheck I NEED a way to eliminate
the mental stress and emotional poisons; I NEED a way to center my mind
and my life; I NEED the time and space to find peace with myself, my
world, my wife and my God; I NEED the clarity that I find in the high,
lonely places.  Like some of those who have gone before me, I've
listened and talked to the spirits of the forests, streams and mountains
(my trail name is Bald Eagle for good reason).  I find my God, my
religion, my spiritual health and renewal in the places where computers
and cars and all the hi-tech gadgets that we all live with every day --
DON'T live. 

And then there are the people - the best kind of people.  We've met a
lot of really nice people - and more than a few who are completely
"around the bend".  But then, the only people worth knowing are those
who are crazy (personal opinion J).  For the most part, people who hike
(especially long distances) are REAL.  On a long distance hike, people
don't have the time, energy or inclination to maintain the "masks" that
"civilized" people believe are so important.  And we've made connections
with people from all walks of life, all occupations, all sizes, ages,
interests - and some of those people are our friends.  To a large degree
they're also our "family" - because we have more in common with them,
and in many cases, more contact with them than we do with our "birth

And there are "other" reasons - Ginny and I got involved in trail
maintenance some years ago.  We hiked a trail that was in desperate need
of maintenance - and then volunteered for a trail crew that was gonna
work on that trail.  We've been working on trails ever since.  I know -
some people think they don't have "time" to do that.  Bull.  We've
averaged 12 days of trail maintenance per year over the last 5 years
simply by using some of our weekends.  Vacation is something we've had
little of - and what we have, we use for long distance hiking. But one
weekend at a time adds up to a lot of trail work.  It's our way of
giving back something more valuable than money to the trails we hike and
love.  What does this have to do with hiking?  If you're gonna work on a
trail, you need to know what needs to be worked on - and where it is. 
And after we hike, we often send in trail condition reports to those who
need to know what we saw.  One of our purposes for being out there is to
scout the trail conditions for the trail crews.  

We've also gotten involved in writing trail guides - so far we've
written several of them.  If you're gonna write a trail guide - you have
to hike the trail (if you're gonna talk the talk, you've gotta walk the

Some of these are also part of the reason we want to thruhike again, as
well.  But Ginny recently sent me something that she wrote that explains
the thruhiking "hunger" better than I can, so (with her permission)

> Excitement - fear - hope - joy - anticipation - happiness - > impatience
> A mixture of feelings.  I can see us out there so clearly. I read
> about following a grassy ridge, and I can see us walking along 
> the Divide. Passing ruined cabins and old mines, herds of cattle,
> antelope, elk, meeting bears, fording rivers, crossing steep snow
> fields, getting lost, getting found.  Going hungry, thirsty, 
> tired.  Names on maps that will soon become memories. Strangers 
> that we will meet along the way.  Endless miles - sore muscles, 
> sore feet.  Endless climbs.  Steep descents.  The joy of
> topping a mountain.  The serenity in sitting by a lake and 
> watching sparkles on the water as the fish jump.  Feelings of 
> frustration and feelings of accomplishment.  Profound peace. 
> Moments of laughter.  Quiet conversations in the night.  The 
> simplest of lifestyles. 
> 200 days to go - maybe less.  I'm not ready, and yet I would 
> leave tomorrow if I could.  183 days of hiking - maybe less.  
> If we average 18, we can finish by November 1.  That's not so 
> difficult - yeah right!
> We are so lucky to have the chance to go - but we've made the 
> choices that led us here.  Maybe not luck - but it is happiness.  

Some of you will understand that - and some of you won't.  The ones who
don't need to learn what she's talking about.  For myself, I'm proud to
be married to the lady. And the first time I read that, I cried -
because it brings back memories and because it makes the hunger sharper
and more urgent.  

And then there's the question - why do I write trip reports?  In the
beginning, we kept personal trail logs - journals.  They were private,
in part because we were as afraid of exposing our emotions, our failures
- the very ordinariness of our experiences - as anyone else is.  But our
trips mean something to us - even if they're not "exotic" or "dangerous"
or "esoteric".  So we write about what they mean, what we went to find
and what we discovered along the way (they're rarely the same).  And
somewhere along the way we discovered that not many people have
"esoteric" adventures anyway.   So we lost most of the fear of

For us, the journals are also a way to extend the hike - when we write
about it, the memories are revived, the pictures that we carry in our
minds are recalled - and the trip is alive again for us. While memory
fades, the journals keep some of the details clear and focused.  So when
we read those journals a month or a year later, it all comes alive

We also discovered that trip reports (especially honest ones) can be
used to help others - to teach them that they can do what we do and
sometimes to show them how.  Our trip reports aren't meant to be
"esoteric". They're meant to tell others that there's a world out there
that's bigger, more wonderful and more beautiful than many people can
imagine - but that they can see it for themselves.  If we can do it -
they can do it.  So we tell about it.  And we hope that some of them
will decide to overcome their fears - or whatever else is keeping them
hiking the same trails years after year - and that they'll go to some of
the places we go - or to other places that we haven't been yet. And
maybe when they come back - they'll tell us about it.  We need to know,

And now there's the final question ----    Why do YOU hike?  

Walk softly,

Message from the Continental Divide Trail Mailing List

To:            jrowen@ibm.net
Cc:            at-l <at-l@backcountry.net>, pct-l <pct-l@backcountry.net>, cdt-l <cdt-l@backcountry.net>