by Lana Bluege
Marketing & Social Media Editor, Whole Terrain
I began hiking mountains when I was about 12 years old. My family and I would go camping in New Hampshire and tackle the Presidential cliffs or smaller (yet still challenging) sister mountains. My father is an Eagle Scout and taught my sister, brother, and I all about hiking essentials. “Regular hikers have many standards to uphold,” he would say. “It is important to leave no trace, stay on the path, and not disrupt the forest — and never wear brand new hiking boots!” I instantly felt camaraderie and peace among the large trees and passing hikers. Running up a mountain with the chatter of birds and the distant sound of a river made me feel alive. Along the path I encountered many forms of life, all working together in a beautiful balance.
I looked forward to these summer adventures all year. Friends would brag about white sand, clear blue water and fancy hotel rooms, while I tried to convince them it was fun to sleep outside and get dirty in the woods. I was unable to persuade any of my peers to join in my summer outings, however.
One summer, my father informed us that we would be hiking several mountains in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, all are over 4,000 feet. Being young and somewhat naïve, I did not see this as a challenge. After hours of sweating, falling, and climbing giant boulders, I felt like we would never finish.
I noticed the trees begin to shrink in size, their tops were visible. The air grew chilly above the tree line. To some this phrase has no meaning but to me it now represents freedom, balance, and peace. I could see miles of forest and clouds engulfing my siblings as they hustled to put on their sweaters and pants. I have never felt so small and yet so powerful as in that moment. I truly felt a connection to the environment when I was standing on top of the world and I promised myself that I would climb every 4,000 foot mountain in New England to obtain a prestigious patch.
High on adrenaline, my 12-year-old mind thought I could do everything quickly and easily. In that moment I forgot the difficult trek over boulders and under canopies. I also forgot that I had to go back to school in a month, return to civilization, return to the illusion that I am separate from nature.
Several subsequent summers we spent in the foothills of the White Mountains, and every year our hiking adventures diminished little by little. I would think, “I have better things to do than hike up a mountain; they all look the same anyway.” In my later teen years I lost that feeling of being above the tree line and the beautiful balance I had with nature. This spirit lay dormant.
Today the spirit burns brighter than ever. The mountains are calling me to come back to their difficult hills full of uplifted roots that may trip a passerby, their rock cliffs that may crumble in a clumsy hand, and their pesky mosquito soldiers that will inspect every inch of bare skin. I have heard these calls since I was 12. Now it is a mountain’s beckoning whisper, “Come back and stand above the tree line. Come back and feel the new connection that is awaiting you.”