Guest blog by William “Whistler” Monk, who lives in Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia. He is a lover of nature, long distance hiking and a book author. He has written two books: Whistler’s Walk: The Appalachian Trail in 142 Days and Whistler’s Way: A Thru-Hikers Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail.
A question for the ages, “Why do you hike”? If you lined up one hundred hikers you would likely get one hundred varied responses. As a long-distance hiker who has successfully thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), I asked myself that very question. Where does that desire come from to walk away and abandon the comfortable life that I know and love so much? Why would anyone think it was a good idea to pack meagre supplies in a backpack, throw it on their back, and walk away from life as they know it for a day, a week or in my case, five to six months?
Thru-hiking the 2,189 miles of the AT in 2017 served as an awakening. It changed me, and I discovered something—I discovered that I liked people. Sounds a bit crazy but it’s true. I found what makes people good, kind, and compassionate. I found that I enjoy hiking with today’s youth, and that they enjoy hiking with me. I found that on the trail, we are all truly equal. We each have the same goal—or purpose—with a definitive target in our sights. We know where we come from, and we know where we must go in order to discover the enlightenment we each seek as we complete the task (hike) at hand.
With that burning question waiting for a logical answer, it really only brings forward more questions looking for answers. Sometimes we end up with answers to the questions that haven’t yet been asked. What I have learned is that sometimes you get answers as you get closer to nature, closer to the earth, closer to the sky and closer to other humans. Life off the “trail” tends to distance us from nature, earth, sky and one another. When I hiked the PCT in 2019 I hiked by myself for a majority of the time. That was okay though, because it gave me the opportunity to “be with me”.
But I also had the opportunity to hike with others I’d met on the trail. One of the hikers I met was a guy from Germany who went by the trail name, ‘First One’. ‘First One’ and I happened to hike up to Crater Lake together which had us both acting like giddy school boys. You see, Crater Lake is the deepest lake (592 meters) in the United States. Its unusually deep blue waters are due to its depth and clarity and indescribable to anyone that might ask for a description. In other words, you have to see it for yourself to believe it. While we were enjoying this “other worldly” sight, ‘First One’ shared a German saying that goes something like this… “Luck and happiness are doubled if shared”. I love hiking by myself. I love that I can spend time by myself and thus learn more about myself. But sometimes the enjoyment of an experience is multiplied when shared with others.
So, why do you hike?