While I was out hiking the Appalachian Trail last month, my friend Tom Mangan, the author of Two Heeled Drive, issued a challenge of sorts to the hiking bloggers, to explain Why We Hike. Here's my contribution.
When I go backpacking, I reconnect with the natural flow of time. During the day, I keep track of the time by how many miles I've walked on the map. I wake up in the morning, at twilight, without an alarm, and go to sleep when the sun sets.
Some days, I spend more time in camp, reading, writing, or lying down on my back and relaxing without thinking about anything. I'm not meditating. I'm not dozing. But I do feel time slowing down around me. It's a subtle sensation, but I'm finding that I can do it more and more, without the guilt I once felt, when I had too much to do and too little time in my life.
Back when I worked full time, I was like most people, trying to cram as much work into my time as possible, handling constant interrupts, multi-tasking, and rushing from appointment to appointment. I'd drive to the office in the morning, eat lunch at my desk, and drive home at night, wondering what the weather had been like during the day. It's a disorienting sensation, like the one you feel when fly cross the country on a red eye. You land the next morning after a 7 hour flight, feeling a bit strange because you didn't experience the sensation of travel or the passage of the night. It's just gone.
I walk wherever I can now, spending hours walking to to the drugstore, supermarket, health club, yoga studio, barber, even to the homebrew store 8 miles from my house. It's good exercise and it saves on gas, but I think I walk to feel and appreciate the time it takes. Life takes time, but if I don't feel the time, it's like I'm not experiencing my life. Walking and hiking is the way I feel time.