Footsteps

The first hike I clearly remember was with my dad and my brother when I was about eight or nine years old. We hiked up a mountain in the North Cascades to stay in an old fire lookout cabin. It was the sort of cabin that Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac stayed in over the summer to watch for forest fires that might otherwise cost timber companies lots of money. We hiked across snow banks and through the clouds and it was so cold in the cabin that my brother had to wear his spare pair of socks on his hands that night. We averaged one hike per summer when I was growing up, and usually camped overnight before hiking out the next day.

I still love hiking and camping, and luckily my partner has learned to at least like a good challenging hike, if not the sleeping in a tent part. We’re both into challenging scrambles and steep climbs and we want to start some basic mountaineering training at some point. This year I managed not only to get him into a tent overnight for the first time, but both of us had our first multi-day hike with camping at the end of each day. We were carrying our tent, sleeping bags, clothes and a bit of food in massive rucksacks along a stretch of the South West Coastal Path, one of the brilliant National Trails in the UK.

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It was my first experience with long distance hiking, but honestly, I’m hooked already. As soon as we were done I was excited about what the next one would be. It was very hard work, especially as the stretch we did was a bit of a roller coaster, and we made things tougher on ourselves with a few detours and a few extra hills. But the payoff for that is worth the difficulty. Nevermind the amazing views and cool wildlife we saw (I nearly stepped on two adders in a single day, when I’d never seen one before). What I love about long distance hiking is the feeling of freedom that comes from carrying everything you need on your back, the rhythm that emerges as you arrive at each campsite and pack up in the morning, the well-earned rests, the quiet and the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other over and over and over again.

I’d love to do a week of hiking every year if I can, not to mention shorter day hikes in the mountains where possible. Some day I’d love to tackle some even longer hikes, like the whole of the Pennine Way in one go, a through-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, maybe even New Zealand’s Te Araroa someday. At the very least I would like over the course of my life to section hike the entire coastline of England and Wales, joining them up with a coast-to-coast hike.

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There’s a lot of things I love doing but few bring me such uncomplicated joy as strapping on a backpack and going for a long walk in nature. Every walk is different. I want to hike in every season. I want to hike all over the UK. I want to climb mountains, scramble through gorges, tramp across fields and drift along the coast. If hiking all the time wasn’t incompatible with a full time job you can bet I’d be doing it all the time.

I started a journal that’s a log book of all our hikes, at the very least capturing distance, elevation, climb and duration if not some details and memories from the hike. I’d like to write more about them here, too. I think it fits with the content; to hike with me is to know me. Or at least to know that when I get dehydrated I start singing.

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