Editorial November 2012
As a small boy, I spent many hours roaming the woods that surrounded our family’s home. The outdoors has always called to me, and in my youth I spent as much time there as possible. In my early thirties I once hiked more or less spontaneously to the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, the highest peak in the Northeast. It seemed quite unremarkable at the time, a perfectly normal activity for a young man who loved the outdoors.
Fast forward to late this past summer and a long-awaited return trip to the White Mountains following too many years spent sitting at a desk. The aging process is many things, but it is above all a time of discovery. And as I quickly discovered, my youthful predecessor’s energy and stamina is history. Navigating obstacles that I would once have barely noticed had become a major effort. Where once I regularly passed others on the trail, I now passed almost no one, and those whom I did consisted almost entirely of families with small children or the totally unprepared. With some frequency, I found myself stepping aside to let faster parties through, or simply to rest. Any hopes of repeating my earlier hike to the top of Mt. Washington were quickly dashed.
But new realities, even painful ones, are sometimes accompanied by useful discoveries. Consider, for example, the following lessons taken from this no-longer-youthful-hiker’s summer experience:
- Raw speed isn’t everything. The tortoise won that race with the hare, and he had more fun getting there.
- When hiking, your goal should be a sustainable pace you can maintain comfortably over time. Three small steps are often better than a longer one if they take you to the same place.
- When you’re climbing without constantly thinking about that next rest stop, you’ve got it about right.
- One careless step can ruin your whole day. Plan every step, one step at a time, all the way to the top. Ditto all the way down. It’s safer, and the time goes faster.
- Resting once in a while isn’t such a bad thing. Sit quietly for a little bit, and you’ll notice things that you will otherwise never see.
- When ascending the trail with a backpack, always remember to lean into the hill. Falling over backwards is very embarrassing, not to mention painful.
- Just because you’re on a footpath doesn’t mean you can’t use your hands and arms. Put them to use whenever appropriate. It’ll make things easier, and a little bit faster.
- A good hiking stick can help you navigate treacherous footing; it also saves the knees.
- Going up is harder on the legs; coming down is harder on the feet.
Last but not least, as I wrestled with my new hiking realities, I was once again reminded that change is often scary, especially when we aren’t sure what may come next. Maybe that’s why, the more I think about it, the more hiking seems like great preparation for a career in scholarly publishing. Talk about a discovery.—IER