By Randy Pierce
“Why do you hike?” is one of the most common questions asked of many hikers. The answers are as diverse as the people being asked and even more powerfully they are as changing as the seasons in new England.
I began hiking in part for the simple appreciation of the ability to walk again. I knew from my past the serenity of reflection I often found on the mountain trails. I recalled the wonder of visual splendor from my days with sight and was eager to understand the full spectrum of senses which could be touched as a blind hiker. I was also eager for the sense of accomplishment each summit might bring to my spirit.
In preparing for our day hike of Wildcat and Wildcat D, I had an interesting conversation with Bob and Geri Hayes. As avid hikers, their own motivations and inspirations have changed over time and we all noted not only the diversity of reasons for hiking but the development of those approaches. I believe it was Bob who coined the phrase “Hiking Evolution.”
This is an older concept than Darwin, of course. The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, gave us: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” I know the simple changes in my own hiking ability; this day hike would once have been an overnight for certain but as my work with Quinn and the trails has developed my understanding and abilities, this will be shorter than several of our previous day hikes. The mountains themselves have changes in them by the seasons, as well as more immediate variances from subtle daily alterations. I remember how small and shrouded the world becomes on a night hike in winter where the limit of sight and sound brings detail to the closest things. I recall hikes through autumn splendor of colorful majesty surrounding the world. A cloud-encased summit creates an otherworldly quality that makes the landscape quite surreal. The wind may bring different feelings and scents even along the same well-traveled trails. All of these and more combine to influence change within ourselves and our perspective on these trails.
Hike with an ornithologist and the splendor of bird song is more vibrantly obvious. Hike with those who work the trails and a new appreciation for the subtle care taken to preserve these paths is astounding. Learn the geology which created the various terrains or the adaptations of the trees through the alpine zones. As we learn and change, the opportunity to cultivate a wonder of varying appreciations can develop. Most powerfully for me is the element of community on a hike as I endeavor to take a bit of each person’s motivations and experience along with me to the next hike. My own evolution in this way reminds me of a Jimmy Buffett lyric: “Frankenstein, has nothing on this body of mine.” So where I will be when the Wildcats hike begins is likely different than where I’ll be at the end and just maybe in my passing by I’ll influence the evolution of these trails as well — actual and metaphorical.