Why I Hike, or, Why Do I Hike?!
Why I Hike, or, Why Do I Hike?!?
This is my third attempt at a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The first attempt had my mother biting her nails and asking why. My second attempt had her cheering me onward. When I completed the Pacific Crest Trail last year, I felt her lungs release an air of relief. Accomplishment. Success. I had finally completed a thru-hike. So when I came home last October and announced I would be hitting the Trail again in 6 months, I found my mother coming full circle, wondering – why!?
My mom is not the only one who asked me this. Friends, family, and fellow hikers have questioned me, too. Previously, I stubbornly blew off their inquiries. It’s my life and I want to, damn it! But this time around, I cannot dodge the prying question. It would feel false. And I admit, I am beginning to wonder myself. At what point does one go from having the desire to achieve the crazy but somehow honorable goal of completing a thru-hike, to simply being a strange, dirty, smelly vagabond?
The relentless and snowy winter received by Massachusetts this year has helped me answer this question. The cold winds trap me inside yet again as I hurry from the house to the car to work to the car to the house. These man-made shelters, evidence of industry and progress, keep me warm and safe, but they are also the walls of my mind’s prison. And the mind is such a whirring and incessant thing. It’s like the constant ticking of a clock, but it can’t be turned off. So all winter, I stir inside myself, and I get paler, fatter, sadder.
I contrast this season to happy summers that feel so far away right now. I remember complete instinctual joy while running barefoot through my grandfather’s rural property in western New York State when I was a little girl. I had a feeling of openness and exultation the summers I had spent on the AT or the PCT. I feel the mud on my feet, the smell the musk of a frog pond. I become overwhelmed with an inflation inside my heart, and in the summer, I can express it outwardly. Outdoors, the feelings I have are free to shoot into the sky and through the air all around me. Such a feeling truly makes the word “outside,” with all its connotations and intricacies, seem too unimportant, too small, because the feeling literally seems to touch with invisible fingers all the reaches of the universe. I imagine that it is this feeling that most people associate with their religion or spirituality, but I don’t feel it about those things. I feel it about the natural world.
So the question, “Why do you hike?” is like the question, “Why do you exist?” or “Why do you live?” Sure, there are a million easy answers I can concoct to the first question there that would be true – because I love nature and I believe in conservation, or that I enjoy feeling self-sufficient, or that I enjoy the fellowship of my hiker family. However, if we get straight down to the “Why?” it is the same insufficient answer that would be given to the second two questions: because I am a human; because I was born; just because. I can’t control the terms of my existence, or the weather, or the ticking of my mind. But I am naturally inclined to embrace it. Even when these things are cold and hostile. Just like Mother Nature, the mind is a scale that requires balancing. If I’m going to spend 6 months inside, then it makes sense for the whole of my being to want to spend 6 months outside. It is therapeutic, freeing, and it gives me the feeling of control. So, why do I exist? Why do I live? Why do I hike? Simply albeit frustratingly put, because I must.
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Good luck Tee – I love the determination