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Hiking is the Way I Feel Time

Boardewalk on the New York Appalachian Trail

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.


  1. I couldn't agree more! I currently spend 2 hours a day stuck in a car going back and forth to work and some days (especially in the dark winters of NE) I never see the sun. The days just disappear in a fog of action items, meetings and ultimately lifeless tasks.

    I've told co-workers that hiking is my religion. I can completely disconnect from 'modern' life and the days become a collection of meaningful moments; the next summit, preparing a meal, watching a sunset, or most importantly – meaningful reconnection with my hiking partner!

  2. I agree! The isolation and connection to the natural world is the best de-stress ever. Even if it is occasionally physically uncomfortable, the satisfaction one gets in the simplest things like a sunset or a wildlife encounter makes time in the bush a magical experience.

    And let's face it, when we are lying on our death beds many years from now we will not be thinking, Gee, I wish I had spent more time at work!

  3. Phillip,
    I very much understand the notion of time compressing while doing 'unnatural' things. I can blow an entire day focused on some work project (I'm an applications I.T. guy), look up and see it starting to get dark again without ever realizing what the day was like.

    My wife and I try to counteract this by bicycling everywhere, including to work. We do this all year 'round so it's not always a lovely ride, and we ride in downtown Cleveland traffic each day.

    But when people ask me why I do this, assuming it's an awful ordeal, I try to respond by saying how much more awful it is not to notice the outside. On a bike you really do notice the temperature, wind speed and direction, slight changes in elevation, humidity, etc. It's like living before the invention of the auto when people most often got around on foot or on horse-driven conveyance and the outside affected them dramatically.

    Coming back to work after a weekend spent cycling or paddling or hiking, I have to force myself to avoid appearing jubilant, and just listen to the weary voices of my co-workers telling me about a soccer match, a movie, a dinner, etc. Folks who have not fully broken away from work over the weekend and are now back right where they started on the previous Friday afternoon.

    The bicycle as well as boots and paddles and other outdoor pursuits are time machines that stretch time out delightfully.

    Marty Cooperman
    Cleveland, Ohio

  4. Lindsay is right, but why? Isn't walking what we evolved to do and, if so, don't we have systems built in to reward the act of walking. The question should be, why doesn't everybody walk?

  5. Zed – I wish I could give you a good answer. It sure would bring down the price of gas.

  6. I believe it was David Abram who wrote that the artificial environments we create for ourselves are sensuously impoverished, lacking in complexity and offering little opportunities for mental stimulation. Ten square feet of forest (or desert for that matter) offers orders of magnitude more complexity than the same area of the typical office environment. No wonder so many people snooze through their lives, asking themselves on their deathbeds where all the years went.

    Those of us who go out into the wild every chance we get have consciously (or sometimes unconsciously) realized that something is lacking in how we live these days. Figuratively speaking, we're coming up for air, gasping for experiences and meaning. That's one way to look at it.

  7. Phillip, I would say that walking and backpacking gives a reconnection with nature and the naturally rhythms of life, something that we have lost in the modern world, but still exists in the more primitive cultures. Getting up when the sun rises and sets, is something that would have been a given for our ancestors. I am not saying that they would have had a stress free life, but I find that walking in this natural environment helps to rapidly dissolve the stresses and strains of modern life.


  8. Very nicely said!!

  9. this is awesome. i feel the same way. soon to be hiking the trail, i just got to do it but i feel the need to do it when the time is right. time is awesome, life is awesome, we just need to stay focused on life and not the distractions.

  10. I really liked this. I can relate and feel like I need to make it a point to get out there more.

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