Benjamin’s boots crunched the half-frozen dirt, and with that came the feeling that the weather might soon be encroaching upon his routine. Every other Saturday for the past seven months, in an attempt to lift his spirits, he had hiked three hours away from a life that choked him with boredom and frustration.
The mountains alleviated Benjamin’s ennui for the first few visits. However, this spark of hope gave way once he counted the trail as yet another task. It didn’t take long before this bimonthly trip resembled a workplace itinerary:
After walking for one mile, turn left.
Two more miles, sharp right.
Rock scramble up for half a mile.
2 miles of descending switchbacks.
Cross a river.
3 miles of uphill climb.
Rock scramble up once more.
2 miles of gentle twists along the trail.
Arrive at the rocky overlook and peer over what seem to be at least three states.
Benjamin had developed a deathly sluggish daily cycle: he felt brain-dead upon waking up, numb while at work, and inexplicably exhausted along the ride home. Only upon reconnecting his head to his pillow would the neurons in his cerebrum finally be stimulated, causing his mind to surge through the next day’s business. He would then dwell on personal failures that littered his past, some that he could hardly bear to confess to himself even in the softest inner whisper.
As if his daily schedule in the city didn’t remind him enough that his existence was not ideal, nature itself had seemingly found a way to mock him as well. Appearing about every other mile, subtle memorials of the year made the trail decreasingly enjoyable:
A tree he fell over in May while worrying about his dying uncle that he never visited.
A rock he had lunch on in July after getting too nervous to speak to that special girl at work.
A river containing somewhere the shattered fragments of his grandfather’s watch which fell off his wrist the day he brought too much bourbon along with him.
Once he accepted that he might soon have to find a new pastime, today’s hike began to feel peculiar. The cloud-covered skies, brisk air, and barren trees invited a sort of holistic renewal. He passed by the natural landmarks and noted that yesterday’s leaves were covering all of what had become so dismally familiar.
Beginning to be more honest with himself, he thought that perhaps the trail wasn’t as static as his mere perception of it. He reflected on the springtime, when the wildflowers were at their finest. He considered the plenteous natural shade supplied during the entirety of the summer. He recalled the autumnal curtain opening upon an astounding display of yellows, oranges, browns, and reds that all danced together with the wind until gliding off their slender stages in respective pairs and trios. He perceived that his melancholic sighs only resumed whenever he stopped surveying what was around him and opted to occupy himself with his own exclusive thoughts. This whole place was alive—fully so—year-round!
Why couldn’t he be, too?
With every step, Benjamin was continually gripped by newfound wonder. His eyes brightened, and, absurd as it sounds, his arms reached out as he walked as if simply to embrace more of his surroundings. All at once, nothing was enough. The morning frost evaporated under his feet and filled his lungs with an exhilarating freshness. In what seemed like a matter of minutes, he was atop the peak. Though he had been here a dozen or so times before, he beheld the view as for the first time. Fellow hikers could be spotted in the distance beginning their own journey. The leaves that had provided shade and beauty in the previous seasons were gone, but only now could he trace out the entire trail. He noticed how the bends, turns, zigzagging switchbacks, and scrambles all brilliantly coalesced to this final point. These paths blazed by brave souls ensured the most enjoyable (and perhaps safest) route to follow. What seemed like an inefficiently long course was one that provided the most scenic overlooks along the way, not to mention an overall gentler travel.
Benjamin breathed deeply. He looked up from the trail below, set his gaze toward the horizon, and grinned. Life was starting to make sense.
Image: Hiking Landscape