I am not a hiking expert, so if you’re reading this as a primer on “how to hike” I’d suggest going elsewhere. But if you’re interested in some thoughts about hiking, read on.
Sometimes we’re running down the trail, full steam, gear clanking along. Sometimes you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other, gasping for air as you climb, climb, climb. Sometimes the trail is easy to see, clearly marked, well maintained. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re even on the trail, checking and double-checking the map, trusting that you’re going in the right direction, continually glancing behind and therefore continually distracted from what’s in front of you, trying to memorize the landmarks in case you have to backtrack. Sometimes there are blue skies and gentle breezes. Sometimes there’s rain and mud and cold and yuck. Sometimes you see lots of people. Sometimes you don’t see another soul. Sometimes you want to keep walking and walking and walking. Sometimes it’s hard to take the first step. Sometimes the obstacles are easy to surmount. Sometimes there’s no way over them. Sometimes this happens with the same obstacle, depending on which way you’re approaching it, and sometimes once you’re on the other side you see the obvious, easy way around that you totally missed before. Sometimes you slip and catch yourself. Sometimes you slip and fall. Sometimes you slip and fall and it hurts and you’re muddy and dirty and wet. Sometimes you step in a huge puddle that you didn’t realize was as deep as it actually is. Always, always, it’s better that you did it.
Of course I carry a backpack. In it I carry, in no particular order: two water bottles, a lighter, a head lamp, a rain jacket, a fleece vest, energy bars, a knife, a whistle, a compass, a warm hat and gloves, a hat with a brim, a first aid kit, a small towel, sunglasses, sunblock, twenty dollars, a credit card and my driver’s license, some rope, tissues, trekking poles, three pens and a pencil and a small notebook, two carabiners, a few dog treats and poop bags, gum, a bandana, a chapstick, and dry socks.
Let me tell you about the dog. The dog is always excited to go. The dog finds the trail more consistently than the GPS on my smartphone. Who’s smarter now? The dog never says no. The dog pees and poops wherever she wants (but you have to clean up after them—you can’t just leave that shit). The dog gets tired until she sees something scuttling in the underbrush and then the dog has unbounded energy. The dog eats snow and drinks river water. The dog swims and lies (lays?) in mud puddles. The dog sticks their nose up into the wind, sniffing all the smells. The dog enjoys your company, and you enjoy their company right back. The dog is tired and happy.
What if I don’t make it back to the trailhead before dark? What if I sprain my ankle? What if I get lost? What if a mountain lion is stalking me? What if I fall off a cliff? What if I run out of water? What if someone breaks into my car? What if my art gets wedged under a huge boulder—would I be able to cut it off? What if I get shot by one of these idiots out here firing off rounds? What if one of these off-leash dogs attacks my dog? What if I want to keep just going?
The trail is a metaphor for life. Come prepared. Learn from the dog. Leave the trail better than you found it. Some questions have no answers, and sometimes they’re the wrong questions.