The Miserable but Hopeful Hiker

By Olivia Clarke

When Smepring Break rolled around, my friend and I decided to go backpacking in the Columbia Gorge. We arrived at the trailhead around noon, and from there we hiked up…and up…and up.

It was an unpleasant trip. The weather was cold and wet. Our gear got soaked. Our hands went numb. The trail was brutally steep. By the next day I was so sore I could hardly move. Despite all this misery, though, when we returned home we were laughing and exhilarated, and we hoped to go camping again soon. That’s the strange paradox of hiking: terrible discomfort, followed by a desire to repeat the experience.

I suspect this phenomenon must have something to do with nature. As a person who “enjoys” hiking, I believe that now and then I need to shiver in the mountains in order to remember my place. On the slopes and in the forests, we feel small. The vastness and the harshness of the wilderness still have the power to humble us. This is important in an age when we huddle in cities, dreading the inevitability of climate change. When I think of the environmental destruction taking place every day, I often feel hopeless and resigned. On backpacking trips, however, when I see all the trees and the wildflowers and I breathe in that crisp northwestern air, I realize how much life and power remains in our resilient wilderness. I keep returning to the trail because when I see all that’s left to save, I feel an unmistakable rush of hope.

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