Kevin Callan
Credit: Kevin Callan

There are times when I question backpacking. It’s like an endless portage.

Hiking with a pack strapped to your pack, however, is still the most fundamental means of getting around out there, and the act itself is still one of the best ways to connect with nature.

Most noted philosophers used—and still use—walking to get their thoughts going. Wilderness visionaries like John Muir and Henry David Thoreau walked a great distance to experience the wilderness landscape. (Muir walked for two months in 1868, from San Francisco to Yosemite, and Thoreau walked a 100 days in 1866, from Montreal to Quebec City.) Even Jesus Christ wandered the wilderness for 40 days to deal with the temptations of the devil.

But you don’t need a major pilgrimage to become familiar with nature. You just need to travel by your own means, that being by foot, to feel connected. In fact, it’s a worldwide phenomena; the Japanese call it “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku). There was even a study done for the Journal of Affective Disorders, which found that people suffering from depression can improve their mood by simply walking in the woods for less than an hour, though it can be worsened by strolling down a busy city street.

The opposition to all this, of course, is that we no longer walk as far on a regular basis as people did back in Muir, Thoreau or Christ’s time. The automobile has spoiled us. We think nothing of driving an hour out-of-town to a super-sized shopping mall to catch a sale, but won’t even consider taking a stroll to the corner store to buy necessities like bread and milk. Of the 3,000 hikers a year who attempt to walk the entire Appalachian Trail from Virginia to Main only around 300 make the entire distance. We are definitely getting lazier.

Having an argument with your spouse? Go for walk in the woods. Pondering over a new career move? Go for walk. Continuously tempted by the devil? Go for a walk. Want to reconnect with nature? Go for a walk. It’s what we do to contemplate life, a way to simplify things so we can do nothing else except think. Bill Bryson said it best when he gave the reasoning for walking the Appalachian Trail with his buddy Katz. It was because a little voice in his head said, “Sounds neat! Let’s do it!”