And by a lot, I mean I’ve almost walked all the way through a pair of trail runners. Hiking is the greatest meditative exercise I have ever done.
I’ve heard hiking referred to as “technical walking” and that’s pretty much what it is. It’s walking that requires a bit of attention to be paid while doing it. The ground on a trail can be covered with the gnarly roots, littered with rocks, uneven, perfect. It requires a different sort of attention to be paid than the sort paid to a walk in the city. When I walk to work, I have to keep a wary eye on the cars and trucks. I’ll occasionally have to dodge. Nothing infuriates a driver more than having to actually touch a brake pedal for a few seconds so that I can cross the street. They’ll usually take that time to roll down a window to scream their indignation.
But on a trail, in the mountains, you can hear yourself think. There is no danger of being run down. No profanity shrieked at you. Nothing but the scent of the pines, and the sounds of the wind moving though them. The only scolding you are likely to receive will be from a chipmunk. The scent of real pines reminds you that the makers of that cleaning product really missed the mark. The worst that can happen is a root can trip you up in the trees.
Most of the trails I have walked in this state are in the mountains. They cling to rocky ledges, or switch back purposefully up to the treeline en route to the peak of a mountain. More and more, though, I find myself a fan of the high meadow. You leave a treeline and find yourself in tall prairie grasses, waving shoulder-high in the rediscovered breeze. It’s quieter than the pine-covered mountain trails. The wind has only the high grass to blow. The sun catches on that grass perfect and golden, and the high blue sky above goes on forever.
Some of the best hours I’ve known have been traversing those high meadows. At night, the stars are beautiful out on them. The further out away from the cities the better. The solitary trees you find out in the middle of the meadows invite with a good spot for a pause for water or something to eat. Waiting for the rest of a party to catch up is best done in their shade.
Soon the winds will blow cold, inspiring a faster pace crossing them. Then the snow will cover them, and they’ll be silent. Only the occasional snowshoe or Telemark skier traversing. But I’ll find myself back on them in the spring and summer, smiling among the tall grass.