Since I’m on the topic of hiking, here’s one more post on the subject before I move on.
In the weeks after 9/11, I was raw, for want of a better word. The world felt different. Life seemed even more fragile and uncertain than usual.
One thing that seemed to mean was that I needed to be outside, to experience the beauty of nature because it seemed to be one thing I could do to ground myself and not feel the world was completely insane. So, on September 30, 2001, a good friend and I hiked to Hidden Lakes Peak not far from Cascade Pass.
On the four miles it took us to reach the top, we passed through forest before breaking into rocky meadows that gave us views of the terrain all around us, including the meandering trail and other hikers above us. The stunning beauty of the mountains and the fact that we were far from cities, roads, news, and most other reminders of humanity made it seem as if we had entered a different world.
It was quiet in the way mountain trails are — the only sound being a breeze, a bird’s call, a trickle of water, and our footfall on the packed dirt of the trail. Climbing thousands of feet carrying a pack is hard work. To go on, climbing for hours, is a sort of meditation. After the first mile, the body gets used to the activity and the mind stops bitching about the effort. What’s left is one foot forward followed by the next.
Since I grew up in the flatlands of the Midwest, I appreciated the mountains once I moved close to them. Amazing hikes to stunning views were only an hour’s drive from where I lived near Seattle. Every time I got on the trail, I felt that sense of peace that comes from being away from the noise and hubbub. The air is fresh and new there, and almost always there comes a point when some awe-inspiring sight appears in the form of a peak, a glacier, a pristine lake, or a painted meadow.
It was on a hike when I first really got the term “deafening silence”. We were sitting on rocks in a meadow around Cutthroat Lakes. It was autumn and the heather was turning. At one point I realized there was no sound whatsoever – no bird, no insect, no trickle of water, not even a breeze whispering. I was afraid to move for the sheer perfection of it.
Here’s the stupid part. Given all I’ve just said, it seems that I would want to be out hiking every weekend from May to October, but the truth is I often find myself dragging my feet about going out. I think about having to get up early and gathering all the gear and I focus on the hard work of climbing. It’s as if my mind naturally remembers only the unpleasant parts of things and I have to consciously force myself to think of the joy of being out there and seeing things that a relatively small number of people are lucky enough to see.
What the heck is that all about? Resistance to doing the things I know are things I love? Do you do that at all, or is it just me?