Miles and Elevation: A Case for Hiking

♦ Pictures were taken over 2 days of hiking in Pinnacles National Park. There are two entrances to the park, the East and the West. We chose the East Side to venture from as we favored the camping options. Highlights of the hikes were Bear Gulch and Balconies Caves and sightings of bats, tarantulas and the endangered California condor which is the largest bird in North America. ♦


The feeling of miles and elevation in my legs and lungs is addicting. I believe this because it’s not always a joy, but always a need. The countless miles hiked and summits reached are not always “fun”, they can be so challenging that gratification only comes when it’s over. I know this is not the case for everyone…some love every aspect of hiking.

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I have a love but also a compulsion. I can find Zen and feel the tune of nature but I also sense its jagged edge daring me to conquer it. This manifests on the hike up and I feel a clock ticking loudly in my head, taunting me to pick up my pace no matter how much it burns…how much everything burns. I see an especially steep section and am compelled up, running, no stopping till the grade breaks. I create time goals that are mostly baseless and always have me scrambling, in the throes of exhaustion just to make it before I thought I would. Set a strict time goal and then kill it by 15 minutes or more.

Then there’s the summit. Bent over at the waist, hands on knees, dark shadows lurking on the edges of my vision slowly receding as I catch my breath, the burning breath I feel in my ears. All this and my brain is calm, finally still. Quiet.

“Before enlightenment – chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment – chop wood, carry water.”  – Zen Buddhist Proverb

The way down is all patience, an entirely different yet daunting challenge. My body feels unnatural going down. My knees quickly ache and I am not sure footed, never have been. Since the summit has been reached I feel tempted to believe so has my goal. But time remains as well as an equal number of miles as the way up. All I can do is keep moving and leave the landmarks I recognize behind.

No matter if I am going up or coming down, I remind myself to look around and appreciate the landscape.  My feet and my next step make for a monotonous view though I am easily fixated.  For certain hikes, I will pledge to not set goals, to shush the ticking clock and enjoy the time with my hiking companions.

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I would like to say that I hike for the beautiful reasons. For the love of nature, for seeking communion and quiet within myself and with my God, for the connections made with fellow hikers.

I do it because I can or perhaps I can’t but I have to know. I want to know how much guff I will give myself or send out into the universe when it’s hard. I like to press on further than I expected to or at least with more effort and less internal doubt. I want to sweat and work. Maybe its penance, maybe its training, maybe its feeling less defeat.

Miles and elevation meet my needs in the end no matter how I approach it. No matter how I feel about a particular hike, by the time I reach my car and take off my hiking boots, I am satiated and proud. By the time I reach my car I reopen myself to the creep for the next hikes calling.

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