Lately, I’ve been thinking I might not be getting the best experience out of my hikes. I think about how I used to hike and what made me excited about a particular trail and something has changed. I feel like I’ve been doing so much fitness-oriented hiking lately that I can’t down-shift and enjoy a hike purely for the experience. As I make the effort to change this, it made me start thinking about why I hike, what draws me to the trail and how what the trail has to offer changes my approach to the hiking experience.
What draws me to the trail these days is very much about goals. I find myself choosing hikes based on bagging a new peak, beating a previous time or simply logging miles in to my fitness routine. My choices are less about the experience and more about the route, the terrain and how fast I think I can complete it and get back home. So much so that I don’t even carry a camera with me anymore. There’s really nothing wrong with this, especially since I am in recovery from an injury and I am focused on training for a race. Fitness goals are very important to me right now, but I do miss hiking purely for the joy of discovery.
When I first moved to Arizona and began hiking in the desert, every hike was about getting to see something new. It was about the varied terrain, the exotic and esoteric plants, the fascinating little creatures that scurried about…it was about the journey. The desert was a new place to me and I would find myself randomly picking hikes in far off places just to see what I could find. I wanted to stand under a new waterfall, look from a new peak, see new trees and hear new birds. I recall hikes where I would spend huge amounts of time just watching a rattle snake, or the spectacle of a tarantula migration or inspecting some old piece of mining equipment long since left behind. Some of my best and most memorable hiking experiences were from this time in my life. A time when every trip was a new adventure in every sense of the word.
Today I feel torn. Part of me enjoys the convenience of a trail within a 10-minute drive of my house in the city that offers me 3, 5 or 7 mile options that I know I can complete in a set amount of time. It’s definitely better, in my opinion, than asphalt. But there’s another part of me that misses the exploration side of hiking, the adventure and the sense of discovery. I feel like I should have more reverence for the trail, more respect and acknowledgement of the uniqueness that makes each trail special. The problem I have is that many of these local trails just don’t feel special anymore.
I think it’s time to push out of my comfort zone. It’s time to visit new places, take the road less traveled and reintroduce ADVENTURE to the outdoors again. I know there are amazing places out there that I have yet to visit and I want to start making those destinations more of a priority. We all hike for different reasons and there is no right or wrong, as long as you enjoy yourself and stay safe. I can still run in town and climb local peaks to build cardio and endurance, but I really want to hike the kind of trails that used to fill me with a sense of wonder…a true Hiker’s Hike.
And who knows, maybe I’ll start carrying a camera again…