Mountain Sunrises and the All the Comforts of Hiking

Besides one three-day backpacking trip in college, my hiking experiences have typically been single day excursions with cabins, hotels, and residences as departure points. I like waking up in the morning, leisurely eating breakfast, packing up, and driving one-three hours to the base of a mountain whose peak I can almost assuredly find in a half day’s climb.  I have done one sunrise hike, and I must admit to not even summiting. I would love to be more intense about my hiking, but even here in California when I am relatively close to the majestic Sierra Nevadas and the Pacific Coast Trail, made famous by this year by Cheryl Strayed’s blockbuster Wild, I still have no desire to take off into the mountains for weeks on end. 

I have, however,  been inspired to devour more travel memoirs and narratives, including William Least Heat-Moon’s blue highways, and most recently, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. Bryson writes less dramatically than Strayed and less complexly than Least Heat-Moon. Published over a decade before Wild  about his experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail, Bryson writes more about the trail itself than his experience hiking it. He takes a while to get to the trail, describing first his purchase of high-tech hiking equipment and his overwhelming fear of bear-maulings, but once he gets on the trail, his biggest problem comes from his ill-prepared hiking companion, Katz. Bryson provides some interesting commentary on Americans’ use of our trails when it contrasts the AT with his hiking experiences in Western Europe:

In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature an either/or proposition–either you ruthlessly subjugate it, as at Tocks Dam and a million other places, or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart, as along the Appalachian Trail. Seldom would it occur to anyone on either side that people and nature could coexist to their mutual benefit– (p 286)

Upon reflection, his point looks pretty valid. Bryson uses countless examples of how human “advancement” has destroyed ecosystems as well as decimated many plant and animal species. The grandeur of the mountains (and volcanoes) I’ve witnessed in Hawaii, California, Washington, Colorado, Switzerland and Austria have humbled me with their stature yet I’ve forgotten how fragile their existence is. I’d love to take the “respectful walk” through one of these 2000+ mile trails, yet I think I’d miss the comforts of home too much to actually make the trip. Maybe someday my wanderings will bring me to the PCT, but for now, I’d rather head towards the PCH, for the siren song is for the sea, and not for the mountain peaks.

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