There’s a T-shirt that says “Hiking is Life…all the rest is details.” That pretty much sums up what I feel. Hiking for me is what we’re all about. Walking/Hiking in the great outdoors is what we were made to do – it involves full contact with all the elements of life that we were born to embrace. The elements surround us every day if we but put ourselves out there. And that is what I intentionally do – put myself in outdoor environments where I can experience life to the fullest.
Active travel in the outdoors involves challenge and risk – two things I need and crave. Actually, all of us need and crave these things but we can now find them without participating ourselves. For me, it’s crucial that I am personally involved in the challenge and risk of climbing a mountain, fording a stream, finding my way through deep forest, discovering secret corners and confronting the mysteries of the outdoors and life itself. In urban environments, we can find excitement through watching others, i.e. watching an NFL Sunday game, but the excitement and energy we feel is secondary (we are thrilled with someone else’s accomplishments) and is short lived. Since the achievement is not ours, it’s not internal, not a part of our cell memory in any real way. So, it’s temporary. On the other hand, when we reach the summit of a mountain after walking for 6 miles and ascending through 3,000 feet of elevation, sometimes in rainy, windy or snowy weather, the feelings are ours, as are the memories.
We’re connected with the entire planet. We rejoice at the experiences and adventures that we have. We visit areas of great natural beauty. We connect with new and exotic cultures. But what we do here, or wherever we live, has direct impact on natural areas around the world. Our actions here affect the life of those in other parts of the world. So, if we’re to continue to have great and wonderful adventures we have to be aware of the impact our actions have on natural areas, other species and other people around the world. We’re fortunate to live here in the U.S.; more fortunate than we can imagine. Local people in the areas we visit help make our trips as unique and wonderful as they are. But those same local people often lack access to the basic amenities in life we take for granted. I feel a responsibility to help local people everywhere have access to the same amenities in life that we do, so they can give their families a decent life and have adventures of their own.
We do best when we’re sitting around a campfire at night with family and friends and out exploring our world by d. ayWe do best with a much simpler way of living. I do best when doing long walks, like I just did on the Camino de Santiago. Food tastes better at night. A hot shower feels better. I sleep better. We were born to move and biomechanically we were born to walk. Walking gets us out in the world. It gets the blood flowing. It relieves stress. It builds muscle. It expands our horizons, our view of the world. It introduces us to new people and new places. It keeps us alive.
I like to touch everything when I’m out walking. I like the physical sensation of being in touch with the world around me, the trees and rocks and water and animals. Being out in Nature is one part of the equation. Feeling, seeing, smelling, and touching the world around me is important to my experience. I’m part of the natural world and want to touch every part of it to know it better. It’s like getting to know myself better.
Here’s some Interesting reflections from Ward’s many travels:
1. Most unusual food was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. A plate full of deep fried bees and wasps, grubs, and grasshoppers. Also “rotten shark” in Iceland.
2. Most unusual night on the trail. While at NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, I was sleeping out under the stars, 40 miles from the nearest trailhead. I woke up, with a sensation that I was being watched. Indeed, less than five feet away was a pack of coyotes, perched on a rock slab about two feet off the ground I was sleeping on. The Alpha of the pack was leaning down looking at me. When I looked up, we locked eyes and stayed that way for at least a full minute before she gave one last look and turned and loped off with the pack in tow. One of those amazing moments.
3. Another time with NOLS, I had gotten up about 4 a.m. to use the bathroom. As I was walking back to my tent, on a very dark night, the night exploded with light and sound. I thought a freight train had suddenly appeared in the wilderness and that the sun has risen. It was a meteorite crashing through the atmosphere less than a 100 feet above me. It was so close I could see the flames and smell the smoke. I just stood there, awed by the experience. I’d never seen that before and haven’t seen it since. Another amazing event.
4. Favorite places. The canyon country of southeast Utah. One of the most unique, beautiful, secluded, sublime and soul embracing places I’ve visited. I loved the Costa Rican rainforests, volcanoes, great beaches, wonderful people, more than 100 varieties of fruit, a nuclear family based culture, warm weather year round, a must visit for anyone
5. I think Switzerland is stunningly beautiful; Bamff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada, are pure eye candy and Glacier Ntl Park in Montana, showcase North America’s most treasured natural beauty with some of the best wildlife viewing anywhere and of course, one of my guilty pleasures, Celtic music in Ireland.