The Perfect Path: Confessions of a Non-Hiker

A colleague and I were working on the schedule for a full-week intensive training session for half-dozen out-of-towners. “Be sure to figure in a hike one afternoon,” he said. “Hiking is such a bonding experience.”

Excuse me? Hiking? Bonding? I think he’s got the wrong suffix there. Just three little letters, but what a difference in mindset.

You see, I think the correct word for the hiking experience is “bondage.”

No, no whips or chains in sight, but in my endorphin-challenged mind and aging body, there’s nothing but lots of pain, suffering, sweat and tears. You’re a prisoner of time and space. No matter where you are, you’re always only half-way there because you’ve still got to turn around and go back to wherever you left your car or your house, or in my case, personal emergency medical technician.

To be honest, I can’t even blame my aging body for my feelings – I’ve always hated hiking.

Clear back in Girl Scout camp – when I was young, supple, healthy and reasonably energetic – hiking was hell. At least the camp leaders were smart enough to avoid the havoc of 30 rebellious ten-year-olds by having something worthwhile at the end of the path – a swimming pond, lanyard-making class or dinner.

My little backwater school was too impoverished to have field trips, so we were spared going anywhere for nature walks. Living in the midst of miles and miles of farmland, we had plenty of nature to examine on our way out to the school bus or once we got home.

As I’ve sat meditating on my apparently unnatural anti-nature reaction over the past few days, I began to wonder: Am I so weird? Am I alone in my revulsion to everything big and beautiful that can only be enjoyed by hotfooting it over hill and dale? Everywhere I turn there are these endorphin-crazed people lacing up their hiking boots, hunching into their backpacks and practically yodeling with joy as they begin tramping off into the wilderness.

Perhaps being hiking-averse is for the best, because the other thing I can’t stand on hikes is someone always telling you what a beautiful flower that is or how gorgeous that mountain is or how terrific they feel out here in the great outdoors. Half the time your words are falling on deaf ears. I’m not home. I’ve already seen that glorious flower and have sent my extra-sensory energy over to mingle with it and absorb it and appreciate it.

The other half of the time all those vocal observations have just messed up my zone of silence that I build around me so I can listen selectively to the call of a bird, or the whisper of the wind, or the rustle of a silky leaf against rough bark. God talks in so many wonderful ways and I want to hear it all.

Perhaps I’m not alone. Quite possibly, I’m just not finding the rest of you hike-avoiders, because, like me, you’re in a comfortable chaise lounge somewhere, looking up from a good book now and then to appreciate the beauty of nature around you, even if nature consists of the one scrawny peony left in your backyard.

Are you a quiet, fellow chaise lounger? Let’s do a little bonding of our own. That inviting spot about 100 feet from the parking lot seems tranquil. Same blue sky, same blazing sun, same green trees. Oh sure, those path-trampers will see some vistas we’ll miss, but we’ll be exploring some glorious vistas sprayed across our imaginations from the words on the pages we’re turning. And since there are so many folks who love that walking stuff, it will be pretty isolated in our little zone of contemplation. We’ll welcome the rest of you into our loosely bonded group – if you can find us.

Unless, of course, you brought along your radio. Or worse yet, your cell phone. If that were the case, we’d like to direct you to a cozy little spot across the parking lot – the one between the Dumpster and the PortaPotty. You will serve as a reminder to those passing you on their way to the trailhead of what they’re trying to get away from in their eternal search for the Perfect Path.

Write to me. Tell me your preference. I’ll get back to you. But for now, I have a peony that needs some energy-mingling, and 75 pages remaining in a great novel I left lying on the chair in the backyard are calling me.

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