First off - I'm sorry for the linkbait-y title of this post. I actually hate myself a little bit for writing it, but I couldn't think of anything more appropriate for the tale that I'm about to describe.
I was at REI the other day looking at Merino wool base layers, backpacks, breathable rainproof coats and hiking boots. A few days earlier, my fiancée and I had booked a trip to Iceland for next June. We are planning to do a 16 mile hike one of the days while we're there. Nevermind the fact that anytime you're outside in Iceland, you're hiking. I paused in the store, bewildered. How did I get here?
I'm still not entirely sure why I woke up a month or so before my 36th birthday and decided that I wanted to see some waterfalls. I'm not going to say I was ever anti-nature. If I came across a forest or a pristine lake, I saw beauty. But I definitely had a preference for big cities with big buildings and modern amenities. I grew up in a suburb, taking a train downtown as often as I could. I moved to the city proper in college and never looked back. My travels took me to other big cities that I could compare against Philadelphia for its size, cleanliness, etc.
And then one day, I decided that the beauty in nature spoke to me more loudly than that of urban areas. Yes, cities are feats of humanity. But the forces of nature are so much stronger. A waterfall is thousands of years in the making. Many trees are hundreds of years old. These things have been around for as long as man and will continue on long after we're gone! They didn't require any help or planning from people. They just exist.
I realize that I'm somewhere on the spectrum between hippie and uneducated asshole, but it is very difficult for me to explain how I feel about this stuff.
Whetting Our Appetite
Steph and I decided to go camping at Rickett's Glen State Park which has a 7.2mi trail with 21 waterfalls on it. That trip was life-affirming. Even before we got to the first waterall, I knew that this was something I wanted to do again. It was so nice to be away from mobs of people. It was amazing to see how nature behaved when left to its own devices. The sights and sounds were unforgettable.
A few months later, we were off on summer vacation to Norway. After Rickett's Glen, we knew we wanted to spend some time outside Oslo, in the fjords. We spent half a day driving from the city of Bergen to the Sognefjord area, stopping so often to see a waterfall, a gorgeous fjord view or a snow capped mountain. We stayed in a cabin. We walked on a glacier. We drove a mountain pass that is never free of snow. Even in the last week of July, when we visited, there was eight feet of snow on each side of the road. All of these things left a lasting impression.
Learning From Mistakes
At Rickett's Glen, I was in ecstasy... mentally. Physically, I was in a lot of pain. I wasn't yet under the impression that I enjoyed hiking. I just wanted to see some waterfalls. So I wore some cutoff jean shorts and a pair of old Vans I didn't mind getting dirty. The clothes didn't breath very well. I was a sweaty, gross mess. The sneakers provided no support at all. They didn't grip the trail very well. I ended the day with a lot of pain in the arch of my foot and my knee.
In Norway, while traversing the boulder field that separated the glacier from the parking lot, Steph, wearing sneakers, landed awkwardly on her foot. A month later, her foot still hurt. She went to the doctor. She had a hairline fracture.
It became apparent that if this was someting that we were going to do regularly, we would need to invest in smarter gear to support our adventures.
Accepting The Change
I still sort of snicker when I think about hikers. I find it hard to consider myself a hiker. I really think of myself still as someone who wants to see natural attractions and is willing to do some amount of work in order to see them.
But at some point, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. I know that I want to see gorgeous things in nature. I know that to do so, I may have to climb rocks, walk on rough terrain, or up mountains or through water. I've learned the hard way that being ill-prepared to do these things will result in unnecessary discomfort. So I found myself at REI the other day looking at Merino wool base layers, backpacks, breathable rainproof coats and hiking boots.