I am happy to be hiking again! After a couple of weeks driving across the heartland to make the View Rally, tag my last two remaining states, and get back across the Mississippi River and the Continental Divide, my hands on the wheel have done more movement than my feet on the ground. It’s always a bit of a panic, as my mantra is “Move I must! If I stop, I’ll rust!” Had two weeks behind the wheel caused me to rust? Six miles up through Cohab Canyon and across Frying Pan in the first day tells me all is not lost.
I’ve talked before about how I enjoy the “ready made hikes” of the national parks as much as I used to enjoy those wide, well groomed blue-dot cruising runs down Utah’s nearby slopes. Little chance of injury, and almost no chance of getting lost. I love a good bushwhack when I am with others, but as a solo hiker, if I can remove the element of risk in being lost or having to do route-finding, I can achieve the more meditative aspect of hiking that I have come to enjoy.
Thinking back on when I really learned to love to hike, I can pinpoint it exactly to the days following September 11th, 2001. Having had my entire work neighborhood obliterated, it was two months before we could return back to the office in lower Manhattan. Even my gym, complete with my gym clothes and “Sony Walkman” were gone. That left a whole lot of idle time on my hands, with absolutely nothing to fill it but depressing news, worry, and anxiety. I had gone from an 80 mph job to a screeching halt overnight, and no way to channel that frenetic energy.
My dear friend and co-worker Deb Marrazza had a car. So we began seeking routes out of the city to find a way to expend the energy while calming our frayed nerves and worried minds. We would go just about anywhere to escape the acrid burning smell of lower Manhattan…and worse yet, thinking about what made that smell. Many may not realize it, but just across the Hudson are some beautiful trails. They don’t call New Jersey the “Garden State” fuh nutin’!
As Deb and I would wander through the woods, I found the more I walked, the more soothed I felt. It became almost a daily ritual in those two months following 9/11, like a walking meditation. I quickly learned the rhythm of my footsteps, the musty autumn smells of the woods, and the soothing sounds of nature were better than any therapist I could have paid in Manhattan, or any combination of anti-anxiety drugs. Seventeen years later and I am still seeking out the soothing, meditative high that comes from a beautiful hike.
People hike for many reasons. Some do it for fitness. Some do it for fellowship. I find it’s tough to do both, as levels of intent, intensity and commitment vary. As one who spends 95% of my time alone and therefore enjoys the fellowship, I can tell you that asking a single person to go for a hike only to sprint off and leave them feels like being invited out for a pizza, only to ask the hostess if we can sit at separate tables. If this is “fellowship,” then I am content to be a solo hiker.
During my first visit to Capitol Reef National Park in 2014, I spent most of my time on the trails chasing boot heels. I can barely remember any of it. So I am looking forward to “sauntering” while contemplating the geological wonders of the Waterpocket Fold. i.e. “the reef.” As John Muir said, “…now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”
So on to some serious sauntering….