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We live in a world where our value is measured by our accomplishments and our possessions.
Hiking groups are notorious for celebrating accomplishments, i.e. miles hiked or mountain tops scaled.
When I started the 52 hikes in 52 weeks challenge, I had no interest in raking in the miles. As a long-distance hiker, I didn’t need to prove that I could hike many miles. I also didn’t need to challenge my motivation to get a hike in each week. So I asked myself, what could be my challenge? I decided that I’d hike 52 different hikes, no hike twice, count one hike each week (sometimes that meant my hike was a week-long hike) and see what I could learn from doing so.
By hiking we take back the earth
I learned that it’s not so easy to find a different hike each week. The valley where I live offers many hiking opportunities but finding ones that appealed and were “new” in less than an hour drive radius, turned out to be a stretch. In the end I had to expand my radius. Could I have walked in and around town in different neighborhoods? Yes, but I rather walk on forest duff than concrete. The amount of miles didn’t matter so much, I wanted to return from my hikes inspired and connected with nature. With the help from weeks of distance hiking throughout the year I found 52 hikes that inspired me. Only 4 involved urban hiking and were inspirational in their own right. Now I know many more nooks and crannies of this valley and this earth.
Hiking means inspiring others
I learned that I can build community and inspire others to adopt the walking/hiking life by inviting others. I learned to adapt my desire to go “further” and exchange finding my edge with finding camaraderie. Others joined the challenge, gained confidence about their bodies and found joy and happiness.
Even though I knew solo hikes were my favorite go-to hikes for feeling connected with nature and the universe, I learned that hiking with another person gives both connectivity with nature and shared joy that comes with that connectivity. Hiking with an ideal hiking partner is a gift.
Hiking means communicating
I learned to mince my words with hikers hiking with dogs. I learned to have a productive conversation with bikers on the trail. I learned to accept that we share the outdoors and nice words go much further toward seeing each other’s point of view than judging or critique when people and animals annoy me on the trail.
Hiking is humbling
I learned that hiking through towns exposes the “belly of the beast”, the inner workings of a community. Instead of getting away from it all, town/city hiking brings me more in touch with the world I live in and helps me understand the issues of a town/city better. Homelessness, trash, art murals, city lay-out, parks and industrial areas all paint a picture of how we live together (or divided). Experiencing the local issues at 2 miles an hour makes for a deeper understanding. Not only have I learned about the communities I encountered in populated areas, homeless clusters in Medford, farmers in encroaching urbanization in Holland, I learned about other communities, nomads in Morocco, and young mileage-hungry groups in the Sierras. I learned again that I’m a minor cog in the workings of this world.
Hiking is enlightening and politically motivating.
I learned that climate change is affecting the wilderness trails. Many miles of burned forests, many miles of dry desert, fierce storms in the high mountains in summer, told me we’ve crossed the line of being able to preserve our natural resources and will need to adapt to living with fire, flood, and storms, and do my part to preserve this earth.
Hiking fights age related depression.
I learned that hiking at least 8-10 miles a week, keeps love for life flowing.
Hiking stirs gratitude
And as for the numbers, in 52 hikes I hiked 645 miles. The shortest hike was 1 mile (with my grandson) the longest 75 miles in a 5-day hike. Elevation ranged from below sea level in Holland to 13,200 feet at Forester Pass in the Sierras. Temps ranged from a low 25F in Germany in February, to a high 85F in Northern California in early July. I hiked in Oregon, California, Washington, New England, Holland, Central Germany, the Sub-Atlas plateau and Sahara dunes in Morocco. Aside from 5 to 10 mile hikes in the forests, around lakes and on mountain ridges of the valley where I live, I hiked 42 miles along a designated wild and scenic river (the Rogue), I hiked 120 miles in the craggy Southern Cascades on the Pacific Crest Trail, and 115 miles in the High Sierras on the John Muir Trail; I hiked 3 urban hikes, and 60 miles in the (Moroccan) desert. It’s been a year of variety in terrain, of altitude challenges and gratitude for my health and strength.
In between hiking my hikes, I’ve published a book about walking and hiking to inspire others to explore what I’ve experienced and learned. Walking Gone Wild tells you “how to lose your age on the trail”, because I know that I feel younger and healthier each time I return from a hike.
People ask, “What’s next?” Rest and writing is what’s happening now. Walking and hiking is a part of living for me, so I walk. Sharing with others means organizing local group hikes. I’m dreaming about and planning to (re-)visit places in the Himalayas next year. The surety of summer forest fires, drive me to seek higher places.
The future is unknown, but finding joy and community wherever I will walk is a constant.
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“But all the same, there’s something about me that doesn’t change, hasn’t changed, through all the remarkable, exciting, alarming, and disappointing transformations my body has gone through. There is a person there who isn’t only what she looks like, and to find her and know her I have to look through, look in, look deep. Not only in space, but in time.”
The Wave in the Mind, Ursula LeGuin
The warm umami flavor of onions and slow-ripened tomatoes frying for an omelet fills the kitchen. Little red beans are steaming their way to a pot of beans for an open table gathering with friends and neighbors. Out of my window I see the Japanese maple has turned blood red. The Hosta’s leaves have lost their brilliant green and are deathly pale yellow. The sun was setting mid afternoon as I raked and gathered the leaves of the Ash tree. No more long gardening hours till 8:00 PM. I get up slowly in the morning and the daylight-savings-fall-back time releases me from guilt when I start my day late. It’s only 8:00 AM! I’m ready to drop guilt at my age. Yet, it’s hard to do so. A life long habit of productive accomplishments has me in the grip of doing, doing. Yet it’s November and the season of hibernating is here.
Curled up in my overstuffed chair I watch the weather do its thing from my window. I’m no longer active in the garden, or on the trail all day; I have time for projects. I’ve scattered photos of summer adventures, printed and enlarged, on my project table waiting for a frame, a place to display. I walk around in my winter cave and see the moments of spring and summer that delighted me and connected me so deeply with nature. Pictures are stories gathered. I’m going on an adventure of finding what lives inside my mind. I look forward to the gift of thought as it transforms my outlook on living.
My brain doesn‘t store completes stories, but it can evoke the building blocks of images, smells and muscle memory and trigger a sentence, a story. Cranking out the words is like turning out the miles on the trail. You start and you don’t know where the train of thought (or the trail) will take you. Discovery is adventure. A plan is a time frame, an idea, and a distant goal.
The act of putting thoughts on the page is transformative. Brain synapses exchange their chemicals and trigger new thoughts that lead to ideas, and sometimes actions. I can watch the thoughts and ideas take shape without writing. As in gardening, planting seeds and watching them grow is fun, but the harvest gives meaning beyond the momentary pleasure of being active in the natural world. When I turn my thoughts into words on the pages, it’s possible for others to read and comment.
Writing is a way of becoming real to others. My thoughts can activate thoughts for you, can cause reflection, new insight and change. By writing and sharing my writing I break out of the solitude that writing requires. It’s a perfect circle, connecting you and me, a wholeness that gives my life meaning.
I’m an old woman living in a cave. I’m listening to my aging body that wants to rest more, reminisce and savor. The drive to produce, nurture, and prove myself has slowed to a trickle with the shrinking of the daylight hours. I relish in meditation time, savor a full-bodied soup, wrap myself in soft blankets and take off for a long sleep every night. This is how I want to end my life. I know I’m only hibernating, but the practice of letting myself slow down is a practice in dying. I look forward to the change of seasons, and I hope to approach the end of my life with the same delight.
While in winter hibernation I’m still creating, as I digest what current life has offered me into a story I can share with my readers. While hibernating I rest my body so the small injuries of the summer trail can heal and I will be ready to do it again next year. As darkness increases, The emptiness expands inside me and leads to that elusive, all-encompassing peace. Winter time is a time to try on the later stages of living, sampling the reduced flow of energy, while knowing the sap will rise again. I’m an old woman, thankful for the season, at peace with her aging body, her slowing mind.