Some of my favorite hikes don’t lead to a view.
Not even a decent lookout. They really are phenomenal. I love those hikes when you bust your back for miles on end, preferably in the rain and cold, up the unforgivingly steep, half-maintained, technical and straightshot trails of the White Mountains, only to reach the top, muscles aching and wanting nothing more than a good rock to sit on, and you find yourself standing in the middle of a bunch of trees, next to a miserable-looking pile of rocks that is supposed to denote a summit, and not a good rock or a view to be found. Shivering, you about-face and tromp your butt back down the trail as soon as you’ve caught your breath, preferably slipping and cursing most of the way down.
Yeah, those are some of my favorites.
In fact, it almost irks me at times when I reach a summit on a cloudy day, and as I stare off into the infinite expanse of impenetrable gray that I have worked so hard to enjoy, I hear people down the trail make remarks of disappointment and reluctant promises to themselves to ‘come back another day’.
First of all, I agree, they should come back. You should always come back. But damn, why would you hike in the first place if it was such torture to do it?
I like these viewless, cloudy summits because they represent life in some ways. Sometimes, you are going to bust your a**, and not get the slightest reward. So it goes. But you still did it, and on those occasions it is important to remind yourself:
- Did I accomplish what I set out to do?
- Did I enjoy doing it?
- Did I learn something?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, then the hike was probably ‘worth it’. I come back to some previous ponderings about ends and means. If you hike as a means to the end of looking at a view, then maybe I just don’t understand well enough, but I am sorry for you. If you are one of those people, I challenge you to find what is interesting along the hike. What types of forest are you walking through? What other hikes does it remind you of? What does it smell like walking through a stand of hemlock trees (hemlocks are my favorite :))? I encourage you to remember that every hike can be an adventure, and a learning experience.
Personally, I hope that all of you get to a viewless summit and smile. I hope that you chuckle at a time in your life that you accomplished something big, nobody noticed, and you felt the warm fulfillment of a task accomplished just the same. I hope that you stare into the fog and think about how people who have never known the temperamental nature of New England weather couldn’t fathom the beauty of pure fog. I hope you look out into the mist and imagine what might be out there. I hope you finish your hike happy.
I hope you find warmth in the fact that you could’ve easily stayed home but you got after it anyway. Because after all, from the moment you set foot outside, you had already won.
To all who may read this, remember: It’s not about the view, it’s about the trail that brought you to it, and the trail is the same in sun and in fog.