Any long distance hiker faces this question at some point along the way. “You’re going to hike 2650 miles… Ok… but… why?”
It is hard for me to explain why. Especially when I say “I enjoy doing it,” but then I go on to explain about the chronic foot pain, the fear of getting lost, and the predicaments that weather can put us in. So why do I enjoy doing it? It’s because hiking allows me to appreciate the little things in life. Hiking also gives me purpose and goals, makes me feel alive, and allows me to live outdoors in nature, where I feel I belong best. Hiking long distances just amplifies these even more.
In “normal life,” things become so very mundane. Taking a shower, eating, sleeping, going to work, making dinner, cleaning up, etc. We appreciate luxuries less and less the more we have them. Every day life forces us to upgrade our life-style in order to feel the appreciation of a new luxury. Let’s get a hot tub. Let’s get a bigger car. Let’s go to a fancy restaurant. As if the food at home isn’t good any more, our car is too old and small and taking a shower is just an every day chore barely worth getting wet for.
We always need to seek more in life to satisfy our needs. I believe human needs exist on a sort of pyramid with the basic needs of air, water, food and shelter on the bottom. Our basic needs are almost always met, and the next level of needs are complex. The need for companionship, the need for entertainment. Because we do not need to waste mental energy on the basic ones anymore, we start to work our way up the ladder of needs until the needs we are after are so complex that they are very difficult to satisfy. Example: I wish my husband would just take me out to a nice meal without me having to tell him to. How on earth am I going to fix that need?
What if we could go back and appreciate indoor plumbing, a warm meal, and a soft bed? What if I could give you a pizza that tasted like the best thing that you have ever tasted? What if, besides all this, you are walking through some of the most beautiful country-side in all of the United States of America?
And there are other serious benefits besides: you can eat all you want and not gain weight, and you never have to worry about what you look like, nor what other people think of you.
I was recently told a great quote: “hunger is the best sauce.”
I could not agree more. When you expend several thousand calories, pretty much anything tastes good.
You may be saying to yourself: well, you’ve tooted obvious benefits of hiking long distances, but how do you cope with the not-so-pleasant side of thru-hiking a long trail? What about the blisters, the long, long miles that leave your feet feeling like pulp and your legs feeling like jello? What about when you’ve been wet for days, and you’ve got to keep pushing more long, long miles every day to keep on schedule?
Yes, there are times when it can suck. But there is something else about completing a long distance trail that is a bit addictive. It is the sense of accomplishment. Every day you have a real goal. A REAL, tangible, achievable goal!! How many people can say that about any other day of their lives? I don’t know what it is about achieving even the most meaningless of goals that strangely gives people a sense of purpose. But it’s true. It does. We love to accomplish things. We write lists just to cross things off of them; we make deadlines so that we get things done in a timely manner; and we create goals so that we can achieve them. Everyone has some sort of goal. And the more milestones, the better: to lose weight, to run a marathon, to get a promotion, to juggle 5 balls… Everyone is different. I have to say that watching our progress as we walk across a continent is probably one of the most satisfying achievements I’ve ever come across.
It also helps that I really like being outside. I really love nature; I love the woods; I love the sun; I love the wind; I like the feeling of standing on dirt or rocks; and the smell of grass, or the ocean, or flowers (even though I’m sometimes allergic… ahchoo!!). I feel more comfortable in the ‘wilderness’ than anywhere civilized. Nature is so beautiful, so peaceful and welcoming. Even though sometimes it can seem like the opposite when you’re stuck in a thunderstorm on top of a ridge. But civilization almost never feels welcoming. Cars and guns kill more people than anything nature could ever throw at you.
So why hike? Because it brings me back down the ladder of needs and allows me to really enjoy the small comforts in life: hot greasy food, a shower, and a soft bed. Because it gives me a tangible goal every day and every week, and because I really enjoy being in nature surrounded by natural beauty and all things wild.