I woke up this morning with this thought, and it keeps resurfacing. In case it’s God talking (that’s happened before), I thought I’d better try to answer the question.
But the answer depends on when you ask me.
At the beginning of a multi-day trip, I’m rested and excited by the possibilities: What will I see and hear? Will my gear adjustments make this trip more comfortable? Did I remember everything I need? At that time, my answer to “why do you hike?” is “To experience as much of the world as I can on two feet, knowing that I have everything on my back that I need to do it.”
At the end of a long day of trudging up and down mountains, with my blisters yelling at me … when I’m exhausted and counting my steps to make the miles left pass faster… my answer to “why do you hike?” is “Because it feels good when I stop.”
Then the little pleasures at our campsite make stopping for 12-16 hours feel even better: An unexpectedly delicious meal because I found the dehydrated bacon I tucked away for a special occasion. Discovering running water near our campsite so I can go to bed truly clean. Hanging my bear bag on the first try. A meaningful conversation with a friend as we sip tea after dinner. Falling sound asleep within minutes from sheer exhaustion. If you ask me then, I’ll say “because I worked hard today, and it felt great to stop — and God smiled on our time in camp.”
But today I’m unexpectedly sidelined with an injury, taking unplanned time off to heal before I drive home tomorrow.
As I look at the last several days, I can see God’s fingerprints all over my time on trail. I came down with a nasty fever and cough from a kidney infection just before I was to leave for the trail. It was diagnosed and treated on Wednesday, and within 24 hours the fever was gone. By Sunday (4 days later) I felt strong enough to join my friends mid-hike. That rapid recovery was nothing short of God’s grace.
Despite a few minor tumbles, no major injuries sidelined our group. (Well, at least until my little knife-in-the-big-toe incident.) We talked about important life stuff and family health challenges. And stupid things like, “if your only defense against a zombie apocalypse was whatever you last ordered on Amazon, what would you do?”
We saw abundant evidence of wildlife as we hiked — bear paw prints and scat, bobcat tracks — but never actually encountered an animal larger than a chipmunk. But we DID get to hear two great horned owls calling to each other right above us in the early morning light. So cool.
So what would I say if you asked me today, “why do you hike?”
I’d say: Because it’s the one place in my life where I am most fully present and alive. Because it brings me closer to the people I’m experiencing it with. And because there I am most completely dependent upon God for provision, safety and direction.
That includes this little unplanned detour. As a wise friend reminded me, the trail will still be there tomorrow.