I thought I wanted to spend time alone, let the snow from my snow globe settle after having shaken up my life. I don’t believe this to be true anymore. This past weekend I went to Old Rag in Shenandoah Valley. I went with a mix of people I have known from various aspects of my life, four of us total. Somehow the mixture of personalities and fitness levels was just right. Each one of us had not slept well the night before, due to the excitement of the climb ahead, mixed with apprehension that we would oversleep and miss the whole event. It was like we knew this was going to be an amazing experience, or perhaps it was an amazing experience because we all expected it would be. Each of us talked about where our bucket list hike is- I’d hike anywhere with these people. Grand Canyon? Sure. Patagonia? Sign me up. Shenandoah Valley is a little over two hours away from where I live, so we got up before the sun and arrived early. The Old Rag loop is 9.4 miles, with an altitude gain of 2,680 feet. It is rated “difficult” by All Trails because of the mile-ish boulder scramble and gap jumps. All Trails warns that you will need both upper and lower body strength, and that proved accurate. Mike, one of the guys on our trip, said his wife asked him why he loves hiking so much as we set out, and I knew then that this question would be the basis of this blog post. What is it that can make, what comes down to essentially walking, so incredibly enjoyable?
I am reading Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights right now, and he writes about a challenging year he had in Australia. He talks about being grateful for the experience because it forced him to be introspective for the first time. He writes, “style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn. This is by Gore Vidal. Isn’t that the fucking truth? In order to have style you have to have these in order. You’ve got to know who you are before you know what you want to say and then not give a damn. But knowing who you are is the base that everything comes from.” – Matthew McConaughey. Knowing who you are, why is this so hard? This blog isn’t really even about hiking, per se, but more about the quest to find myself in the woods while documenting any insights or introspections I might have along the way. Spending time in nature lends itself to introspection, as do both physical and psychological challenges. The one common thread between the four of us on that hike is that we have all found a stranger in the mirror at one point or another, and dug deep to reconnect to who we are. Maria and I joked, or maybe even decided, that we would make a business out of hiking while talking about the truths we have discovered about ourselves, relationships and life and call it “ecotherapy.” Being in nature, and in particular hiking, allows the mind to turn inward. In the calm of the woods, the mind quiets down the excess noise of life, the to-do lists, the financial struggles, the marital issues, what you’re going to cook for dinner, etc., and you can start to reconnect to who you really are. Add in the physical challenge of hiking and self-reflection abounds. For all I know, maybe it’s the after-glow of hiking that makes it enjoyable. The feeling of being more me this week has been euphoric, finding my voice and using it.
Aside from discovering yourself, nature awakens the inner child. The mystery and intrigue of woods, the notion of telling someone that you climbed to the top of a mountain gives me a thrill. The boulder scrambles felt more like an adult playground, as my one friend described it, than a daunting physical feat. We slid down boulders on our butts, leapt across gaps and pulled ourselves up and on top of ledges. We stopped to help a woman who was hiking by herself in ripped jeans and tennis shoes who started to cry because she was too nervous to jump over a gap. We found a camaraderie that is rare in adulthood in our joie de vivre, sense of adventure and wonder. I take it back, hiking crew, I don’t want to sit and let the snow in my globe settle. Let’s keep moving, exploring, shouting from the tops of mountains, and growing, without giving a damn what anyone else thinks. Let’s be the wild ones.