Originally published on February 2, 2016 on the Where There Be Dragons “Field Notes Board” at https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/blog/why-do-i-trek/
Lost among pockets of magic and milky waterfalls with my legs as my only tools, sometimes I think I understand what meditation feels like. My vision is split between my feet and my surroundings, assuring my next step and drinking it in. Mountains loom and the vastness of the sky reminds me it doesn’t care what I think; I grab my raincoat and again find my next step. It’s subconscious, though. Well-earned breath moves a little faster and I relish in the wet mud seeping through my socks. I don’t set out intending to ponder my place in the universe or profound epiphanies, but somehow it just happens. Maybe if I viewed hiking as a spiritual academic inquiry I wouldn’t be so excited to get on the trail, but seemingly before every hike I forget it’s not just about the walking.
Often, though, my serenity comes less from the concentrated self-talk than the primal focus on feeling my body. Senses heighten, my feet melt through my shoes as if my toes were digging ino the eath or clinging to rockface. My breathing synchronizes with the swinging of my arms and even while conversing I maintain my internal communication. I know exactly where I am.
Ringed by mountains or rivers or some feature of Pachamama [Mother Earth], I feel small in a way that is very different from traveling through life measuring at 4’10 3/4 “. The reassurance that this world is so, so much bigger than my own little bubble rarely fails to remind me that my struggles are far from solitary and far from unique. The distinction between singular and universal blurs and its importance disintegrates. My citizenship in our collective world of humanity becomes a source of gratitude and pride, and the borders expand to include every form I’ve ever set eyes on.
My flowery ramblings might sound like a gross exaggeration of the pleasures of hiking, but I’ve rarely found greater peace or satisfaction than in the midst of a well-timed walk. Whether winding through the majestic peaks of my Alaskan backyard or moseying along red dirt roads framed by stunning layers of Bolivian sediment, I am not only wholly myself but also sharing an experience with every observer there’s ever been. I am alive, at once entirely human and part of the divine.
This is why I trek.