Robert Saunders: The best view
“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”
So goes one of those inspirational sayings that frequently finds its way into Internet memes. Before social media, you’d see it on posters with words emblazoned across a scenic mountain view, usually with a man or woman standing at the summit, arms pumped into the air.
While I like the idea being expressed, I am always tempted to add a three-word caveat: “The best view comes after the hardest climb...if you’re lucky.”
Case in point: On the first section hike I ever took on the Appalachian Trail, my brother and I started at the northern end of Shenandoah National Park. This was our first real backpacking trip. We were green, untried and untested. The first day was easy enough, but on the second day we had to hike up Hogback Mountain.
With an elevation of 3,474 feet, Hogback is the highest mountain on the north end of the park. We woke up to a cold, driving rain that ended up lasting all day. We donned our Frogg Toggs rain gear, and started trudging up Hogback.
The trail was one switchback after another, except for a stretch where we followed a muddy old logging road. There were no dramatic rises in elevation, just a steady slope that went up, up, up.
By noon I was dragging, as much due to the weather as to the climb. My spirits were as damp as my feet (so-called waterproof boots are worthless, by the way). What helped keep me going was the thought of the vista that awaited us at the top. We could take a break, marvel at the grandeur of it all, and I could eat my chili mac.
My brother set a steady, relentless pace, and we finally reached the summit close to dusk. The rain had finally stopped, only to be replaced by a dense cloud of fog. Actually, I think it was a real cloud.
We stood on the viewing rock and looked out. We saw swirls of gray mist as far as the eye could see...which was about three feet in front of us. We shrugged and continued on to the shelter where we would camp for the night. At least it was downhill.
The next day the sun came out, and by week’s end we had made it to Harper’s Ferry, our destination.
I have fond memories of that whole trip – even Hogback.
Because it comes down to this: view or no view, I love hiking. It’s a wonderful way to spend time outdoors.
Sure, it’s great exercise. A British gent once said, “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Nor does the fitness benefit stop at the legs. Walking (especially with a pack) works the back and shoulders, and improves your lungs, heart and circulation.
But it’s also therapy. The trail clears away mental baggage.
A couple of years ago, a study came out that confirmed what trail lovers have long known: hiking is good for your mental health. Even a 90-minute walk in a natural setting improves your mood, decreases anxiety and can help fight depression.
It makes perfect sense to me. When we’re in the woods, we’re home. Our origins are in nature, not cities.
When I finally crawled into my sleeping bag that night I was physically exhausted. I never slept more soundly. When I awoke the next morning, I felt like I’d been born again. My thoughts were no longer all jangled up. It was as if I had a new-found sense of purpose.
Why not? I had climbed a mountain carrying a full pack in the rain. I had persevered. I could actually do this.
Looking back on it, you could say there was a view that day on the top of Hogback. Just not one outside myself. Maybe the meme is right, after all. There’s always a view. If you don’t see it, maybe you’re not looking in the right direction.
Metro editor Robert Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.