life is short, make time for adventure
by danny bernstein
is my motto and also my e-mail signature.
when I hit my foot on a bedpost last year, my first reaction
was to lace my boots a little tighter and ignore it. After several
weeks of walking through the pain, I finally went to a doctor
and decided to listen: no treadmill, no unnecessary walking
and definitely no hiking until he approved the x-rays. I was
grounded in the beautiful autumn weather and had plenty of time
to feel sorry for myself and think of what I was missing. So
why was being outdoors so important to me? Am I addicted to
hiking? Why do I spend so much time and energy outdoors?
the past 30 years, I have become a dedicated hiker. I started
hiking as something to do on weekends after the pressures of
graduate school was over. When our son was born,
we took him hiking, first carrying him in a backpack. He grew
up hiking; he had no choice. For a long time, he thought that
all families spent their weekends getting up early, driving
long distances to walk, eat and piss in the woods and drive
back. In the early days, a Sunday hike meant a nice day out
to get away. But as I got older, it became a passion. I realize
that my career has been affected by hiking more than by anything
else. Now I organize and run hiking trips full time.
pursuits call for attitude, skill, gear, and time. The most
important part is attitude: the willingness to get sweaty and
tired, to exert yourself, to focus on getting to the top, to
a waterfall, to the destination while enjoying the walk. The
exhilaration of getting to the top of a mountain may overshadow
the views. Moreover, the views from the peak look better with
that "high" of accomplishment. There is even pleasure
in coping with adversity and weather and feeling that "I
can do this".
walking, I develop a pensive view of freedom and possibilities.
Ideas pop up in my head that would never surface in front of
a computer or at a meeting. Reaching the open summit of a mountain
satisfies deeply. On the trail to the top, I look for small
things: mushrooms, ferns, flowers, salamanders, even a snake.
Dealing with the outdoors develops self-confidence, a can-do
attitude which carries over into other parts of life. My friend
Carol had always wanted to go to New Zealand. She told me that
it also had been her father's dream. Although her father was
not particularly active himself, he instilled his dream of outdoor
travel in Carol. He waited for the "right time"until
he retired and had enough money. He waited too long, became
ill and died. Carol, an outdoor woman, inherited his dream.
Unfortunately, she developed breast cancer in her late fifties.
She decided to fight the disease and developed optimism the
only way she knew. While she was still getting chemotherapy,
she registered for a hiking trip to New Zealand that I was organizing.
The day after she finished her treatments, she hired a personal
trainer and started to exercise again.
Carol was determined to enjoy the trip and keep up with others. And
she did. She was not the fastest; in fact, she brought up the
rear most of the time, but it didn't matter. Hiking is not competitive.
Unlike ball sports, there is no formal way to keep score. In
a line of hikers, someone has to be last. "How are you
doing?" I asked her on a particularly challenging climb
uphill. She smiled and said, "I am alive, I am in New Zealand
and I am going to get up that mountain".
Focus, persistence, perseverance are not attributes usually
encouraged in women. Girls, as they grow up, are encouraged
to be well-rounded and social. If we can afford it, we take
girls to piano and ballet lessons but don't expect them to be
professional artists. We may buy our daughter a camera but would
be puzzled if she really understood film speed, F stops and
lenses and became a photographer. As we grow up, we need to
deal with so many distractions and interruptions that we lose
the ability to focus and work single-mindedly on a goal. Hiking
and other long-term outdoor activities may bring back some of
a more practical level, think about the last time you went into
downtown Asheville. Did you have to think where to park and
how far you needed to walk to your destination? Do you move
your car from one area of the city center to another to avoid
walking? Hiking gives you a different perspective on everyday
walking. How far do you think it is practical to walk? This
is not a trick question; I really would like to know what a
reasonable distance is, given comfortable shoes and nothing
much to carry. Let me know and I will publish the results in
a future issue of WNC Woman. Notice that I have not said anything
about getting fit, losing weight or dieting.
here in WNC, we live among wonderful mountains, outstanding
waterfalls, and good trails. We are so blessed with outdoor
opportunities and the highest mountains in the East that I am
often surprised that the woods are not more utilized.
how do you start? In the next few issues, join me as we explore
the pleasures and benefits of going outdoors, getting strong,
sweaty and moving our bodies. We'll look at skills, gear and
time while never forgetting that the right attitude is the most
important piece of equipment.
(Danielle) Bernstein is the director
of Hiker to Hiker,
a non-profit hiking organization. She retired from college teaching
and organizes and leads day hikes and vacation trips in the Southern
Appalachians. For more details, see the
Hiker to Hiker website or email Danny at email@example.com.