Ask anyone in Pennsylvania and they’ll tell you that although PA is boring and predictable at the best of times, it’s absolutely gorgeous in the fall. The leaves crinkle when the wind changes and the breeze picks up; they start changing to yellow, orange, and the occasional red, littering the ground of some of the most gorgeous woods and mountains for miles. There’s a reason hiking is one of the most documented attractions of PA. It’s beautiful and a workout. Plus, it’s peaceful, relaxing, rejuvenating, and not at all boring.
“It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets.” ― Cheryl Strayed
Being out in the woods, surrounded by trees, we go back to a time before cities, cars, and technology. In the middle of a forest, hearing the crunch of leaves under your feet or the pounding of boots over rocks, you notice everything: how tall the trees are, how far away you are from the nearest road or town, and how you could easily get lost without service. You can feel surrounded and alone: just you and the trail and the mountain—both of which have been here long before you were even thought of. And their stories are all around you, felt with each breeze and swaying of branches. It’s almost as if the trees are dying to tell you their stories.
Running your hand along the trunk of a tree, feeling the grooves in its bark, wondering how old it is, crumbling a dried speckled leaf in your hand as you let it go and watch it fall to blend in with the ground, and the rocks with their rough edges, molded and crafted by rain…it’s enough to make anyone a “tree hugger.” But hiking is not for the faint of heart.
“It’s a heavy burden to look up at the mountain and want to start the climb.” ― Abby Wambach
The goal is to get to the top, to reach some individual enlightenment, to climb for that view you know will be epic, spectacular.
Hiking is rewarding. Don’t let anyone tell you different. No matter how long it takes you, no matter how in shape you are…the mountain doesn’t care, it’s going to make you work for that view and the relief that comes from climbing through high altitude and the occasional rain shower. It doesn’t discriminate or show favoritism. It’s a struggle either way. And that makes the victory even sweeter.
I guess I’m a little biased about hiking because my first experiences have been amazing and even more so because I’ve not been alone. I’ve met some pretty incredible people on hikes. One hike, the most difficult one I’ve ever done, was almost not worth it. I was gasping for breath in the thin air three quarters of the way up. But knowing the end is almost there, that the light shining through the trees is from our destination—the outcropping or summit of the mountain, something ignites inside you: a determination that you’ve experienced only a few times before. And, once you emerge from the tree line onto the outcropping that overlooks an entire valley, you forget all about the struggle, because it was worth it.
There’s a serenity that passes over you. It washes away your cares and insecurities and makes you confident in yourself. In that moment, you change, and when you come back down, you’re a different person than you were when you started.