Often the most exciting part about the process of hiking, for me at least, is locking the front door, leaving all things behind, starting up the car and pulling out of the driveway, and driving down the road - away from service, away from wifi, away from all distractions - to a trailhead. Of course, some trails are very remote, while others are well within cell range, but for me, the beauty and value of a hike increases if it is outside of those serviced limits.
It is valuable to go outside of the city limits, county restrictions, and safety corridors of our comfort bubble, where we enjoy being outside of our normal day-to-day life.
Where concretes subsides, and the beginning of soil and vegetation take over again. Where fields of prairie, dense thick pine forest, and mountain landscapes dominate. Where the beauty of hiking begins. Taking literal steps away from our busy lives and homemade structures and meander our way along a trail to discover nothing or everything. All to repeat the process the next day, the next week, the next summer, or to our heart's content.
Hiking might be the purest form of exercise; just lace up some shoes and start walking into the hills. In Montana, however, hiking is more than a workout, it's it'sy of life. For those of us who love it, hiking doesn't revolve around our work schedule, our work schedule revolves around it. It fits into our weekend. It's happy hour before our happy hour. It's date night, stress reliever, gym session, and quiet time. It's therapy session and our prescribed medicine. Our hurt locker and our recovery center. Most importantly, it is all of ours to share and enjoy for free.
Between the National Parks, National forest, State parks, BLM areas, county parks, and even private ranches, we have thousands and thousands of miles of trails to explore in Montana. People travel from all over the country and the world for Montana's outdoor recreation - mostly to fish and ski. But while it may not be the engine and the wheels to our tourism-based economy, hiking is the chassis or the frame of our vehicle. If a trip is timed in winter with a low snow year, many take to the trails. If there is a bend of river far from a road, a hiking trail meanders its way adjacent giving access to the angler's needs. Without hiking, many of our recreational activities couldn't exist.
To feel the rocks with your hiking shoes and to hear the crunch of dirt beneath your feet instantly heightens the senses reminding you of where you are. The sound of birds chirping, squirrels scurrying about on the forest floor, the cascading of an adjacent stream, or the rubbing of a grasshoppers legs are sweeter than any song. The smell of pine from the resin-based needles of trees and the natural scent wafting the air from a patch of wildflowers beat any scented candle or room spray. The cool breeze coming down from the alpine, the gentle rain from a passing thunderstorm, or the warm sunlight touching your skin is like nothing a tanning booth, spa treatment, or blow dryer could muster. Finally, with the opening of the eyes, the widespread view of the prairie, the reflected granite spires on an alpine lake, or the colors of the wildflowers blanketing the landscape is like a view that 4K and HD couldn't possibly replicate.
Cameras will never do it justice, and YouTube wont even replicate without a paid endorsement. Instagram posts will be tagged, journal entries will be written, and articles published on the topic. But the trail remains the same. The wildflowers continue to bloom, the smells waft in the air, creeks cascade, and lakes freeze and thaw. But none of this could be written about, photographed, filmed or posted on Social Media outlets if those shoes weren't laced up and the trail underfoot.
Gear doesn't matter; shoes don't matter. Shorts or pants, shirtless or fully outfitted, hiking in its simplest form is putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes on an incline. How you dress and how you interpret your experience on the trail is entirely up to you. Hiking your own hike is the beauty of hiking. How you interpret your experience is yours alone and how you experience your experience will never be repeated by anyone. Hiking is one foot in front of the other, and the trails are ours to keep for the unforeseen future. Let's not trash it for others and cut corners to erode it. It is ours for the keeping, so let's hold it dear and take care of it.