I often look at my feet while I hike. I do this not only because I have a tendency to trip over the smallest of objects; I want to see what is happening now, right here in front of me.
I watch my muddy hiking boots swing in and out of sight with each step, the shoelaces clicking against the sides. My boots used to be blue. My adventures have faded them to a light gray and the trails have left them spotted and stained. The tread is becoming softer with each hike, and the ball and heel of my feet have created imprints in the soles.
I guess my feet stopped growing when I was 13.
For the last five years, these boots have taken me on various journeys. They’ve brought me through slot canyons leading to the San Juan River, into lava tubes in Hawaii, on high alpine trails in Glacier National Park, through rock spires in the Czech Republic, and have even rested in the stirrups of a camel’s saddle in the Sahara Desert.
In 8th grade, they carried me across 24 hot, dry miles of desert in Grand Gulch. The inside of the tongues are still tinted red with cryptogamic soil. Today, the same boots are thawing from last night’s snow, their sides still frozen with ice. My class and I are backpacking though the Maroon Bells and my size 6 boots continue to be the mode of transportation for my blistered, aching feet.
For the last hour on the trail, I have been hiking alone. The singing, giggling and voices of my classmates are drowned out by the empty space. The only man-made sounds left are my boots squishing in the mud and my rain pants swishing with each step. This is the quietest my world has been in a while; a respite from the hectic pace of September and October.
My boots keep me present. I am connected to them at any given moment. I step over this rock, spotted with bright green lichen. I walk down this hill, the weight of my 40 pound pack pushing me to go faster. I cross this stream, balancing on a log that’s still shining with a thin layer of frost that has yet to melt. My boots teach me how to live my life without constantly worrying about the unknowns in my future or the mistakes I’ve made in the past.
Through my journeys in the wilderness, I have created a lasting relationship with the natural world and discovered many pieces that make up who I am. My connection to nature has helped me learn about myself; how I react in different situations, in which ways I learn best, and how to challenge myself by stepping out of my comfort zone.
Even though I am hiking by myself, I am not alone. Nature surrounds me, keeping me company. The ways of the wild seep into my brain, my heart, and my blood. I become another tree in the forest. The leaves, bark, soil, and sky all a part of me; they are here to stay.
My dad once told me, “Those who watch where they are going rarely see a thing.”
I keep this in mind as I look up at the never-ending valley and soak in its beauty. The few groves of aspen trees that are still sparkling with golden leaves are framed by the mountain tops dusted with snow, the river running through it all. It is important for me to admire the scenery and know what is around me on the larger scaled map; however, I don’t need to constantly worry about what lies ahead and the obstacles that might come my way. I’m not at that river crossing yet. I don’t have to worry about falling in until I get there. For now, I just keep on hiking.