“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” -john.muir
The sun beat down through an opening in the trees as I stopped on the trail to catch my breath and stretch my legs. Standing in a halo of warm sunshine, I inhaled deeply – eyes closed, a smile reaching across my skyward face. It was November in Michigan, though you’d never know it save for the semi-barren trees and constant fluttering of fallen leaves, dancing lazily to the ground. My long-sleeve hiking shirt was a poor choice with the temperature reaching 68 degrees.
‘This will be my heaven’ I decided. My legs ached the kind of ache that seems to only accompany hiking uneven earth for five or more miles. My hips, my knees, my calves, my ankles – they all felt sore and used and stronger than they did a mere few hours ago. It is, in my opinion, the finest ache in the whole wide world. ‘Mmmmm’ I exhaled. Six miles into my hike I feel a million miles away from civilization and that much closer to God.
I once heard a runner say her favorite thing about running is having run. I know what she means. Hiking can be like that too – when the temperature is 90+ degrees and the mosquitoes swarm in clouds as big as a Volkswagen or when the rain comes down in such a way that you start to wonder if it’s possible to drown while standing. On those days, my favorite thing about hiking is having hiked.
But that was not the case on this particular Sunday in November. Nor is it the case during most of my off season hikes when the crowds have dissipated and I’m often able to walk for miles without encountering another soul. The temperature lingers somewhere between 45 and 65 degrees and the exertion required to walk briskly over dirt and rock and root elevates your body to the perfect level of warmth. On those days, the joy is in the hiking. On those days, I stop more frequently, listen more closely, and breathe as deeply as possible knowing my time outdoors is numbered as fall gives way to winter.
The scent of dampened earth and decaying leaves fills me with the kind of cool and quiet serenity only nature can provide. I wipe the dewy sheen of sweat from the crest of my forehead and begin to walk again.