Jared Cain, Campus Carrier Deputy News Editor
Let’s go ahead and get one understanding out of the way: there is no such thing as a perfect hike.
Perhaps the temperature does not feel quite right. Maybe you don’t pack enough water. The weather chooses not to cooperate. You get lost for hours. You become itchy and moist from sticky plants and sweaty sweat (you know, that point where even your sweat begins to sweat).
No matter the day or the time, adversity never fails to weasel its way through Earth’s cracks and, in some way or another, make every hiking experience uncomfortable.
Now let’s get another understanding under way: imperfections are precisely what propagate an ideal hike.
An unreasonable assumption? Well, answer me this. Who voluntarily drives out to a remote location, slaps on a backpack with minimal items and starts prancing away from the comforts of civilization with reason in mind? If you ask me, when it comes to hiking, reason is unreasonable.
Hiking adheres to adventure and it is no coincidence that adventure shares a prefix with adversity (for those curious like myself, the Latin prefix “ad-” means “toward”).
Nature is inconsistent and unpredictable, and so the hiker’s desire to escape from society toward the unknown assumes, and even welcomes, adversity. In fact, it is ideal.
I once took a backwoods hike to a remote waterfall in the summertime with only a cotton t-shirt and shorts. It was not until I had reached the waterfall 3.5 miles from any shelter that the sky decided that the waterfall was lonely and began spewing a deluge of droplets over the landscape. I walked all the way back soggy and cold and shivering in the incessantly pouring rain. It was unexpected, it was uncomfortable and it was absolutely invigorating.
Another time, I hiked through a series of looping trails I had never been to before with no concrete destination in mind. Needless to say, I got lost. It was long after the sun had set that I finally found my way back to the trail head and into the comfort of the known. I was no longer tired and anxious and my heart had ceased racing against the environment. I found my resulting relaxation to be proof of prior stimulation.
These are the hikes that I most vividly remember, that I can laugh about in retrospect and share the experiences with others through stories far into the future.
The stresses and discomforts contributed to exhilarating and memorable adventures that were imperfectly ideal. I wouldn’t have wanted them to be any different.
Nature is puzzling, and perhaps that is the reason that we relish hiking. Why go on an excursion that is predictable and understood? A perfectly comfortable hike, where nothing goes wrong and everything can be expected, is like standing still with your heels firmly on the ground. Clearly, hiking is not stationary.
Environmental adversity keeps us on our toes instead of our heels, always wary and always enlivened. It is nature’s form of suspense. Embrace it.