Art as Hiking

“I’m not really a hiker,” I say to the other hikers on the trail. “I just like walking through the woods. I don’t get paid for it or anything.”

I move aside, they pass, and we all keep going. I’ve been hiking for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I didn’t put as much importance on whether or not what I was doing counted as “legitimate hiking.” I would just sort of happen upon a wooded path and take it, discovering things like little swampy plants that look like miniature umbrellas. Sometimes I’d fall down and get my clothes dirty, and I was rarely admired for attempting to hike, but I didn’t care. I kept going because I wanted to.

As I got older, I got better at hiking. Instead of quick jaunts through the woods near my house, I started trying out longer trails, even tackling a few mountains. I bought hiking boots, I learned how to pitch a tent, I figured out how to make trail mix that I liked.

At a certain point, I began to notice other hikers. I saw them pass me by on sunny days as though the heat didn’t affect them at all, while I sat drinking water trying to figure out why I was hiking in the first place. I saw them in groups trading stories of completing distances that seemed impossible to me. On TV, they had arctic gear and flags and scaled mountains covered in more snow that I’ll ever see in my life. They climbed Mount Everest. People knew who they were.

Suddenly my little nature walks — my hikes — seemed kind of pointless. I’m not the best hiker and I’ll never be the exact Great Vision of a Mountaineer I have in my head. I get jealous of other hikers, forgetting that we take cover from the same thunderstorms. We get burned by the same sun. We encounter the same nagging, biting bugs who don’t care that we’re trying to accomplish something; they just want blood in their mouths. But occasionally, we reach the same mountaintop vistas, breathless at our own journey.

Two hikers can climb the exact same trail, on the exact same day, and see the exact same view but walk away with vastly different experiences. Every trail I finish makes me a better hiker, even if I can’t measure exactly how. Even the ones I start and give up on partway through still provide something I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t started at all.

It seems silly how much I worry whether or not I’m a hiker. I hike every day. When I’m not hiking, I’m usually thinking about hiking. And worrying whether or not I’m a hiker in no way affects my ability to climb a mountain.

And when I’m deep within the woods, surrounded by trees that filter sunlight to a gentle green, the humming of life in the absence of people — all I have to worry about is putting one foot in front of the other; to keep hiking.

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