Friday, May 3, 2013

Why I Hike

1.  Because I can't run 12 miles.  Okay maybe I can, but it wouldn't be very pretty.

2.  It's easy to do.  Open your front door, step outside, tool around the block and you're walking.  Open your front door, step outside, get your ass to a city, county, regional, state or national park, find a trail and - Behold! - you're hiking.  Simple as that.

3.  The rewards are priceless, but the pastime is relatively inexpensive.  You don't need a long list of costly gear: a good pair of shoes or boots, some sunscreen, a nice wide-brimmed hat, a water bottle and...well, that's about it.

4.  Opportunities to become immersed in nature abound.  Depending on where you live, however, some of those opportunities are more accessible than others.  Here in San Francisco we are blessed with not only a world-class city but also with easy access to areas of true wilderness.  I realize that other city centers are a bit more "land-locked", and that for many people it takes a whole lot longer to escape the urban drone and lose oneself on the trail.  So look around.  Do some research.  Then get out there; get some dirt under the soles of your shoes, wherever "there" happens to be.

5.  It's exercise.  Duh.

6.  You see shit.  Flora and fauna.  Oftentimes the usual cast of characters, but sometimes a real treat, a real prime find, be it animal, vegetable or mineral, is just around the bend.  And weather - whether you know it our not - adds to the uniqueness of each trek.  Even if you hike the same trail over and over again the differences in outings can be significant.

7.  Because it's a great way to share quality time with other people, one that doesn't involve sitting around a table or at a bar drinking and eating.  I'm not dissing the camaraderie the kitchen and dining room can foster - in fact, I love it, plus I'm an excellent prep cook and pretty adept at opening a bottle of wine - but "Moderation in all things," someone once said.  "Including moderation," another added, which means you can always hit the trail with a cold beer under your belt, a practice one of my hiking buddies has mastered.

8.  It's rejuvenating.  Physically, mentally and spirtiually.

9.  Thinking happens.  Ideas are hatched, and discussed.  Dilemmas are contemplated, and issues, perhaps, resolved.  Corporations pay big bucks to reserve offsite venues for "retreats", but my friends and I have learned from firsthand experience that a few hours on the trail is a much more economical option.

10.  Because I was born to walk.  I was born a biped, programmed from the start to amble, hike, leap, march, meander, mosey, pace, pivot, promenade, saunter, step, stroll, traipse, tramp, trek, turn and wander.

To leisurely explore the simple pleasures of a peaceful, sunlight-dappled woodland trail beside a babbling brook is to discover my religion, to reaffirm it.  To blindly stride alongside the rest of the human race on hard, unforgiving concrete and tar and cobblestone is my penance, and to watch the world race by from the window of a car on those same synthetic surfaces, pure hell.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing inherently evil about The Need for Speed now and then; nothing like a good old-fashioned, 21st century road trip to inspire a freewheeling sense of liberation and excitement.  There’s nothing like staring out the window of a plane, either, watching the mesmerizing patterns of Planet Earth crawl by from 30,000 feet above sea level.  The crazy corkscrew of rivers; the rigid, geometric squares and circles of cropland; the intricate web of roads; the swath of two dimensional colors during the day and the blazing constellations of city lights in the dark: they are hypnotic, no doubt.  But the giddying tempo of driving, and the cocoon of metal skin that somehow allows me to soar from city to city, from coast to coast, even from continent to continent, also keeps me unnaturally separated from the mysterious, innate rhythms of my natural being.

When I travel as I was meant to, by walking, deep within my soul I hear the regular inhale-exhale prayer of my own miraculous breath, spurred faster and faster by an incline on the horizon, and feel in my chest the ritual drum beat of my own miraculous heart.

I was perfectly designed to leave my lazy set of footprints on a sandy, cream-colored, half-moon beach, to step triumphantly on mountaintops and hopscotch gingerly on the smooth granite boulders of a stream, even to hurry back and forth on the wooden or carpeted or terrazzo floor of a restaurant.  I was meant to have achy feet, tanned feet, earn a living in shiny black Rockports, explore the world in mud spattered Tevas and Timberlands.  Go barefoot as often as possible.

My father and mother, George and Georgene, were, perhaps, born to stumble into each other’s lives on the humid, summer shore of Lake Erie, already proud but unknowing owners of the two microscopic cells that would become their first child.  My mother’s parents, Pete and Diane, were likewise born to venture with bravery and excitement and trepidation across a rickety gangplank and onto a boat that would slice through the sea from Greece to America, then take their first steps in the New World.  My father’s family had already made the voyage.  Even further afield, their parents and grandparents and great grandparents were pre-programmed to trek from village to village, from hut to hut, from cave to cave, back through the narrowing generations in a reverse march of time.

Theories abound, but perhaps as long as four millions years ago our carbon-dated, unnamed ancestors were anxious, maybe forced, to try it for the first time; to climb down from the trees of central Africa and ease cautiously toward the future, from the green safety of the forest to the exposed and perilous savanna.  Besides a slew of similar DNA and the sometimes confounding awareness of my own existence, the reality I inhabit shares little with those early human beings, save the fact that we both learned to stand on our own two feet, then to put one in front of the other.

Like I said, I was born to walk.

See you on the trail.
Peter J. Palmer

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