Yesterday was a good day. By the end of it, my Jeep was dusty, I was sweaty, I’d spent four hours driving and another three hours sitting in traffic delays, and I had a lot of laundry to do. I was waiting for my knees to cast their vote. I went on a hike and I felt the best I’ve felt in months. I’d like to do that again, which I intend to do.
A friend once said something like; “After reading your book, you’ve convinced me to never go hiking, again.” That’s one of the issues with writing about hiking and nature, human communication is best at describing drama and struggle, not at describing serenity and peacefulness. Think of the classics. Dante’s Inferno is well known. It’s about Hell. Dante’s other two books in the series are less well known. They’re about Purgatory and Paradise (as I recall from college days.) The last one is particularly repetitive and dull. Bliss, bliss, bliss. Great, but it didn’t sell as well. Think of social media. Cute cat videos are popular, but drama and conspiracy are so dominant that major governments are being destabilized. The good parts about hiking? They’re harder to convey.
The good parts of hiking are easier to experience, though.
Thanks to the recent good fortune of my truck breaking down and someone stealing my credit card – yes, this good news started with that country-music kind of bad news (A Jeep Dancing And Credit) – I went on a hike yesterday.
I need more than a hike. That’s gone from missed opportunities, to broken habits, to getting out of shape, to not just a want but a need, to affecting many aspects of my health. Hiking is not the issue. Time to heal and time to enjoy and time to relax is the issue. Nature is a healing place. I’ve spent too little time there. I intend to spend much more time there, again – which is much easier now that I have a Jeep.
Video ads show SUVs bouncing along gravel roads, churning up rooster tails of dust as people hit the power while letting the wind blow in the open windows and through their hair. Ads can be so funny. Drive that fast on many trail head roads and find that potholes are more abrupt than most realize, wheel rims less forgiving, and letting all that dust in means turning the car into a job for a detailer and turning hair into an excuse for many showers or for wearing a very tight hat, and glasses, and maybe a shirt buttoned up and sleeves rolled down.
A typical drive to a hike in Western Washington can be a hundred miles on highways, followed by a slow, bouncy, and squiggly drive up a scratch of gravel that might have room for two vehicles. Much of that width may be taken up by having to maneuver from the far left to the far right just to get a few miles to the trailhead. It can take concentration to avoid going terribly off-road as in into-the-forest or over-the-edge, or into a confrontation with another driver’s skills and grill as they try to drive the same way. It’s enough to make you want to take a break between driving and hiking when you get to the trailhead.
Now imagine a small, organic parking lot and greater demand than supply for places to park. My Jeep ended up with its red nose in the bushes, just to fit in. (Another comment about SUV ads. Big brawny trucks look powerful, but if they can’t fit between the edges of the gravel or can’t turn around at the end, they begin to look silly, like a football player trying to tackle a task by fitting into a space ideally dealt with by a petite plumber.) Whew. At least I didn’t have to turn around and try the next trail.
Hiking is seen as frugal, and it definitely benefits from that mindset. Only carry what you need; that includes emergency materials, but it also includes snacks. Hiking is not cheap, however. Gas and gear can add up to enough for a cheap hotel stay instead. That’s the cost, not the benefit. Too many conversations only look at one or the other.
This was a short hike because I try to be careful. Everything takes practice, even walking in the woods. Did I bring the right gear? Am I in good enough shape? My new Jeep is designed differently than my previous Jeeps. Can it handle the reality of Forest Service roads that may not have enough budget for maintenance? (I’ll save you the suspence. Yes, it all worked out well, or at least well enough.)
For two hours (see, I said it was short), my concentration was on walking without stumbling. Sounds simple? Sure; but I was also part of a rescue operation because one person injured their ankle. Getting them out involved dozens of volunteers. Things that are easy to take for granted in the paved part of the world can be vitally serious in the reality we’ve yet to flatten.
Concentrating on walking is meditative, for me. Hiking along a trail through natural forest is a long string of opportunities to stop and notice the world (and pant and catch some breaths.) These flowers are blooming. Those streams are trickling. Sunshine is coming into this meadow now, but not earlier and not later.
Getting to the destination is an accomplishment which varies for every individual. Some are there for lunch. A few were there like me, testing what it will take to get back in shape, or into a new shape. A family was camping, introducing a child to something beside a video game. One couple reportedly BASE jumped off Baring Peak, almost four thousand fee above the lake. Another was there to try summiting it for the first time, for them. Another wanted to explore rumors of a third lake, which we talked about when I mentioned that I wrote a book about Barclay Lake in 2004.
The overwhelming and shifting collection of lifestyle, economic, and worldly issues in my thoughts didn’t immediately evaporate. Maneuvering around tree roots, uneven rocky spots, or long and hopefully strong log bridges over streams quickly reassign priorities. Thinking about stocks? Bump. Good thing my boots protect my toes. Wondering how my business will recover? Bonk. Forehead, meet a fallen tree that’s sticking out. Wrapped up in my thoughts? Scratch. Vines can have thorns, you know.
Eventually, I realize there’s nothing to do about any of those everyday issues while I’m beyond the trailhead. Inspirations may come, but that’s almost by accident.
A nature walk is not an escape. A nature walk is a return to reality.
What’s that worth?
What’s it worth to see a dozen families heading to the lake, each with pre-teens in tow?
What’s it worth to be glad that I’m not camping there that night?
What’s it worth to talk to people who are more likely to talk about bugs instead of politics?
What’s it worth to find a self-selected group of strangers who have at least something in common with you?
Construction hassles, a long ferry line, and a hotter than usual day made the drive home memorable in a different sense. Logging on after I got home refreshed too many of those anxieties, reminded me of so many societal issues. It reminded me of a lack of manners and tolerance. A literal stack of bills was a reminder of a different reality that must be dealt with. There was also a lot of laundry thanks to dusty roads, my sweat, and then baking it all on the drive.
There’s a saying about personal growth; “Chop wood. Carry water. Reach enlightenment. Chop wood. Carry water.” My modern version uses, “Pay Bills. Do Laundry.”
Here I sit, the day after the hike. Things are better than I expected. The Jeep may not be the same, but it did much better than I expected. It wears road dust well. The need for ibuprofen didn’t arise. That was a surprise. My knee that’s been causing such a problem with my running and even with my dancing actually feels and moves better. Maybe it needed more natural movement. Maybe I needed more natural movement. Maybe I needed more nature. There’s no ‘maybe’ about that need.
This blog is about personal finance. It is about personal values, and resources. Money and time are important in our daily lives. Time is naturally vital. Money is arbitrarily vital. I’ve spent so much time trying to make enough money that I’ve spent some of my health. It is easy to say, “Duh, just hike more.” I hear such things said, as if it was obvious. Just as it can be difficult to describe the peacefulness and serenity of nature, it can be difficult to describe the reality of the struggle of people who can’t pay the bills. That was me, and in some ways still is me; but I’m now able to get back into nature because I have a Jeep (that I had to go into debt to buy), and some income thanks to Social Security, and time thanks to business being so slow that I could hike for a day without missing any vital calls.
I’m glad I’m having a good day. Those days have been too few. Now, I can at least trade off priorities enough to afford a few, and hopefully more. I am also reminded of how many are told to “Just Do It” as if that’s simple and trivial. It can be;
That’s a reality, too.
(Disclosure: I wrote Twelve Months at Barclay Lake. It’s available for sale online, though possibly through some stores. This post was not about plugging the book – which may partly explain my financial situation – but it and the others in the series are for sale, Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla, and Twelve Months at Merritt Lake, a simple chronologies of pockets of nature, two of many places that have affected my perspective. Don’t be surprised if they don’t match what you see in the ads.)