Oct 14 2009

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Trail Pounding

Posted at 7:41 am under Blog Post

Modern living is complex, frustrating, and stressful.  The trail is something else.  So every once in a while, I fill my pack with a few essentials and head for the hills.  I go for a couple weeks, a couple days, or a few hours – whatever I can arrange.  Breaking away is the hard part.  Once I manage that, I’m home free.

It’s not as much escape as it is an act of simplification.  I step into the woods and life makes more sense almost immediately.  The daily routine here in the developed lowlands is full of noise, but silence reigns in the forest – a profound quiet in which I can hear myself think.  Some people go to great lengths to center themselves.  They sit in lotus positions for hours on end.  They pray, meditate, or simply clear their heads.  I just step into the woods.  Wild nature does the rest.

Woods wandering at its best is aimless.  Trail pounding, on the other hand, usually involves some kind of goal.  I prefer the former but resort to the latter on occasion.  Sometimes I hike hard for days, clock miles and go somewhere just for the sweaty pleasure of it.  Most hikers can relate to this.  The leap from modern living to trail pounding isn’t a great one.

Most hikers pound the trail for a few hours at a time.  Some do it for a few days, or as long as they can push their bodies full throttle.  Hiking longer than that requires a different mindset.  Given enough time, trail pounding can become a way of life – no longer just a means to an end.  Then the line between trail pounding and woods wandering begins to blur.

Coming back to the developed lowlands after twelve days of trail pounding, I swore I’d never hike that hard again.  I told anyone who’d listen that I’m getting too old for this, that long-distance hiking isn’t my thing any more.  And I believed it.  But now, a month and a half later, I’m feeling physically better and mentally worse, and trail pounding is starting to look good to me again.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely understand it, but the wild has a way of righting what’s wrong deep within.  Aching muscles and sore joints seem a small price to pay for that.  There are times when pounding the trail seems an utterly senseless undertaking – usually when I’m calf-deep in mud, badly bug-bitten, and bone tired.  But I keep going back to it, month after month, year after year.  As long as the profound quiet keeps working its magic on me, I’ll keep my hiking stick close at hand.

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