Get Lost: Why Hiking Feels Like the Most Important Job in the World

The logline of this blog is “Will Backpack for Chocolate,” so I thought about titling this post, “No, Really, I WILL Backpack for Chocolate,” just to be cute. Because I went backpacking this summer and did indeed eat an awful lot of chocolate. (Mac & cheese too, but that doesn’t sound as snappy.)

But then I went for a day-hike last week and realized, all cuteness aside, chocolate has nothing to do with it. Descending from a bright, sunny ridge full of the vestigal summer wildflowers into dark fir woods felt like the most important thing I could possibly be doing. Never mind that it was a Tuesday in September and nearly every non-retired friend I could think of was at work. I felt completely justified, even proud of myself, for walking on a mountain.

How can this be? I’m pretty Type-A: I love making lists and checking things off. Days are for Getting Things Done, as much now, in my part-time baker/part-time writer “career,” as when I was schlepping through the school year as a mom/teacher. I check my watch a lot, even when I don’t need to. I schedule time for everything from thawing ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner, to catching up on DVR’d Daily Shows.

Why does hiking feel so…productive?

I have a few theories. Ready?

1. I’m a nature-girl deep in my soul, raised on runs in Duke Forest and trips to the Blue Ridge Mountains. My Senior year of American Lit. focused on the Transcendentalists, so I imbibed Thoreau & Emerson & Annie Dillard at a tender age. Of course I’m an environmentalist, if by “environmentalist” you mean I believe in marshaling communal resources to protect the natural world as much as possible. Therefore, spending time in nature feels like political witness: putting my money where my mouth is, walking the talk.

2. I am also very, very social. I love my family and friends, and I value the extra closeness that a day of hiking, or a night in a tent, creates. That validation you get from calling your mom long-distance and reconnecting, despite your hectic schedule? That’s what a day in the woods with friends or family feels like.


3. As a lifelong athlete, I’ve also been trained from a young age to put exercise of any form into the category of “Necessary and Good,” along with personal hygiene and music practice. Hiking is making me stronger, therefore it is good.

4. Emerson wrote in his essay Nature, “In the woods we return to reason and faith.” I have found this to be true even when I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. Nature has always been my church. (And, come on, what other church encourages the eating of M & Ms?)

Am I over-thinking this? Well, duh. I over-think for a living these days. But it’s interesting to tease out the strands, isn’t it?

Enchantments 2013 027
What about you? Does Nature give you another gift that I didn’t mention? Is there another completely self-indulgent activity you enjoy with equal lack of guilt? Or are you hopelessly infected with “There are better things I should be doing with my time”-itis? Let us hear!

11 thoughts on “Get Lost: Why Hiking Feels Like the Most Important Job in the World

  1. I live in New York City so the closest I get to nature is Central Park. But I love to run there – it goes beyond trying to stay in shape, at this point, after twenty years, I am barely maintaining my weight. It’s about, as you so well put, being outside among the trees and the flowers – And it’s about clearing my head and combating stress. I can’t imagine what my life would be if I couldn’t run.

  2. We’re all going to die one day, the most valuable thing we have is time. I get anxious about how I’m spending mine, and that anxiety goes away when I feel like I’m using mine well. Being in the mountains always feels like a good use of my time. I grew up in Connecticut, and went to school with somebody who had never seen the ocean, but he was an expert on being drunk. I enjoy seeing the world, I’ve traveled around the continent and for the past several years I’ve been hiking and backpacking to get to know the Cascades as intimately as possible. It doesn’t change the fact that I can’t live forever, but it makes me feel like I’m living well and making good use of my time.

  3. I’m convinced–the best way to cure any type of doldrums/depression is by being outside. No matter what life throws at me, the outdoors can fix it. The problem is usually that I I don’t spend enough time in it. (Bugs, you know.)

  4. Tell me about it–got nailed by a yellow jacket last week. But we’re actually WAY less buggy than where you are, or where I grew up. I’m kinda spoiled now. Mosquitoes can definitely ruin “church.”

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