I began hiking at about age four. No, I didn’t carry a little backpack over my shoulder or use a two foot high walking stick, but this was the age at which I moved beyond walking around the yard with Mom to following my older brothers and sister through fields, over creeks, and into the woods; and in no time at all hiking became an addiction.
It may seem odd to describe a four year old as a hiker, but by my way of thinking I was a bona fide hiker at that early age. Perhaps it would help to share my thoughts about the difference between walking and hiking.
From the time our feet hit the floor in the morning until we tuck them in at night we use them to get where we need to go to do the things we need to do. We may even use our feet for exercise by walking on a treadmill or around the block where we live, but all of this walking, as important as it is, is primarily for the benefit of our bodies rather than our souls.
Herein lies the key difference between walking and hiking. We walk to feed our bodies, but we hike to feed our souls.
Our spirits long to be one with nature and as I discovered at age four, there is no better way to feed and satisfy this hunger than by “being on the trail”. And the nice thing about it, this longing can be as easily satisfied on the trails of a park near your home as on the trails of the most spectacular National Parks.
I was reminded of this just last week – first while hiking with friends, Jim Meyer and Chris Clingman, on the undeveloped trail to Horseshoe Falls on Backbone Creek near Batavia, and then hiking the Far Ridge Trail at the Cincinnati Nature Center the next day with cousin M.E. Steele-Pierce.
The word hiking, appropriately, conjures up images of getting off the beaten path and of taking the road less traveled. Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher who lived and wrote about hiking and traveling in the 6th century BC understood this. He wrote, “A good traveler (hiker) has no fixed plan and is not intent on arrival.” Of course, good hikers do create fixed plans and timelines to reach their destination, but the hike is not about arriving on time, it is about experiencing the journey.
Perhaps I’m making more fuss than I should about the difference between walking and hiking. The famous naturalist and hiker, John Muir, didn’t worry about the difference. He said, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out until sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
I do know this. Hiking is an addiction for which there is no cure, and, if perchance there is one, I don’t want to know about it.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.