Things that have happened when I walked slowly or without any ambitious goal in mind:
- When Wade and I went to a small park in Washington we didn’t know anything about, we explored the network of short trails without a plan. There were tons of beautiful rock formations, some of which had caves with an oozy quality, as if holes had opened up in a very viscous liquid being poured down the hill. We played around climbing some of the rocks, and I found some caves that were exactly the size of my body.
- I went to climb a mountain alone on my odd day off, started too late, and got lost… so I gave up (I did come back later and climb it). I climbed a scree field for no reason, found the warmest, largest, flattest rock with a view of a sparkling lake, and took a nap.
- When we were hiking with Sphagnum on the PCT, she slowed down to hike with us for a couple days and we took it easy and took a lot of breaks. Once, we paused by a stream and had a snack. After a while, we saw a dark streak moving near the water. “Is it a river otter?” someone asked. Eventually, we realized it was a mink, an animal none of us had ever seen in the wild. We also saw an American dipper, one of Sphagnum’s favorite birds, which she had a lot of fun facts about.
- I was sick and accepted that I had to hike slowly, so I went to an easy trail and took every side path. I squeezed through a hole in a barricade to the entrance to a mine that was just my size (I cannot endorse this), I saw a waterfall and a lake, and I hiked barefoot for a couple miles on the spongy, wet, autumn-cold ground until my feet couldn’t take the cold anymore.
- When I visiting home, I went with my dad to some ruins in Georgia. We only knew about them from a bullshit history channel special that claimed they were Mayan ruins. There was no trail, just an area to explore. They weren’t necessarily dramatic, just low, mossy rock walls, but it was so interesting to see something so ancient without any tourism-related intervention. We had to follow a creek bed back because it was impossible to orient ourselves any other way through the dense, underbrush-riddled forest.
- One of my favorite days on our thru-hike was one where Wade and I were taking a nearo into town, so we weren’t going to hike that many miles anyway. We took it slow and found a canoe abandoned next to a lake (or maybe it was a pond–everything is a pond in Maine no matter how big it is). It was patched with duct tape and had one paddle, but it was surprisingly seaworthy. We went out into the middle of the open blue pond and splashed each other and fought over the paddle, and I saw with new eyes the lakes I’d been walking past for weeks.
- Recently, I went on a short stroll through some neighborhood parks with some friends looking for mushrooms. We didn’t find any edible ones, but we explored my friends’ favorite parks in their neighborhood, which is pretty far from where I live. There were old, dark forests, and beaches with dramatic views of the Olympics. We wandered around in the brush listening to Lou describe how to tell the trees apart and what words people used to describe attributes of mushrooms.
- On a road trip somewhere in the southeast US with college friends, a road was closed, or maybe some other mishap foiled our original hike plans, so we wandered around on a country road under towering pines and through some open fields. In the woods next to us, somebody’s dogs followed us for miles. A silly-looking stubby dog followed us the closest. Even Shalaka, who doesn’t like dogs, was a fan. We named him Belgium.
- When it was raining everywhere else, Philip and I went to Eastern Washington, where there’s a dry steppe type of landscape, with sharp black rocks, stunted plants, and alien-looking spotty lichens. We had found a flat easy trail and then decided to climb a random hill. After ascending some loose rock we were on top of an expansive flat ridge-top with strange angular outcroppings of rock scattered about. Due to the lack of trees, we could see very far– to rows and rows of windmills and unusually flat, low ridges just like the one we were on. We imagined being able to see far like this everywhere and charting a route across the whole country by standing on hilltops and planning each next move. We did see a new route back to the car from where we were and followed our eyes to the road.