To a lot of my friends and family, I’m Mr. Outdoors. I’ve gotten to a place in life where I’ve visited most of the well known outdoor attractions in Oregon. I’m asked every Friday by my co-workers where my weekend adventure will take me. I have a well-known goal of fully exploring the beautiful state of Oregon. I want to explore every inch of my state. My wardrobe consists of mostly work clothes and hiking clothes. And what makes this all so ironic: I’m not a hiker.
When I imagine a hiker, I picture some of my friends who hike. They calculate the distance they will hike, they document the elevation gain of those hikes, and keep track of the time it takes them to accomplish their hike. I often hear people sharing a hike that was 15 to 20 miles. I went hiking with some friends who are avid hikers. It was a short 2 mile hike to Pretty Lake, a small mountain lake nestled at the base of the Cascade mountain range. I annoyed my friend with my slow pace. But, the common question when seeing my photos of the hike was, “Where did you see that?” They were so focused on getting there fast, they had simply walked past various kinds of mushrooms and unique views. They noticed little of the beauty in their midst.
My favorite people to hike with so far have been non-hikers. Bluntly, their lack of physical conditioning makes them slow, and they are grateful for every photo stop or view that requires a minute to take in. The slow pace and frequent stops also mean they experience more of the beauty around them. It is the reaction people have to stunning beauty that makes taking someone along with me fun. Non-hikers have a sense of wonder and excitement that hikers seem to have lost. When a hike goes 2.5 miles up a hill, to have the trail open up to a gorgeous 100-foot waterfall, EVERYONE has a visible reaction. But the reaction is more vocal and visible from the non-hikers.
For me, the hike is part of an entire experience. I love to slow down and take it all in. I pay attention to how the landscape ties together and where certain plant life prefers to grow. This has helped me to more efficiently locate mushrooms and waterfalls; two of my favorite things to photograph. A hike must have something at the end that is worth seeing or be filled with sights along the way. I have been on short, easy trails that were lacking in sights, and I hated every step of the way. I’ve also been on long hikes, hikes that have kicked me in the pants, and loved every step of the way, due to the jaw-dropping beauty I experienced. It is important for me to slow down on my adventures and take it all in.
In our day-to-day lives, we are always rushed and always driven to succeed. The modern-day work environment is fast-paced and relentless. I believe this creeps into our personal lives and affects the way we choose to spend our leisure time. These rigorous schedules and distances keep one from fully experiencing the beauty that surrounds them. It takes some effort to focus solely on the present, but the rewards are well worth it. I often, through my actions, encourage my friends to slow down and notice the beauty that surrounds them. Understanding my sentiments, a friend sent me a quote from John Muir where he eloquently states my feelings on hiking:
“I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte–terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”
I had never read this quote before it was sent to me. Reading these words was like reading the very words imprinted on my soul. I honestly believe our GOD made us to be out in HIS Creation. It is in the wilderness where our minds clear, and we are able to think outside ourselves. We were not designed for this robotic hustle that keeps us from meaningful relationships and disengaged from our neighbors and friends. Nature was not created solely for HIS enjoyment, but for ours. We were made to enjoy HIS glory and to be awed.
So, my friends, keep this in mind when on your next outdoor adventure. Slow down, look up, touch things (Not the Poison Oak…don’t touch that), smell the air, listen to the sounds, and make an effort to take it all in. Look for the animals that are hiding and observing you, they are all around you. Notice the landscape and the animal trails. You are entering the Holy Land, and there is so much to see. You just may find out that you are not a hiker after all. You may find out that you’ve been missing out this whole time by ‘hiking.’ Stay safe and keep exploring!