Many of you have heard of “runner’s high”, but you don’t often hear about “hikers’ bliss,” or “snowshoers’ content.” The cross-country skiers I’ve met haven’t mentioned some kind of altered state while they’re skiing, either.
I’ve seen cross-country skiers swinging along gracefully, steam rising from their tightly-clothed muscles in clouds, often somewhat serious and quiet. However, many of them ski into their eighties and beyond. There must be a reason.
We do hear plenty from snowboarders and downhill skiers – often audible shrieks of glee- about the thrills they find in hurtling themselves down mountain slopes at dizzying speeds. My husband, an expert downhill skier, has said it’s close to achieving flight. However, those who love so-called extreme sports fall into the thrill-seekers category, a crazy distant relative to the bliss group.
You may not have heard of “hikers’ bliss” but it exists. Like Paddlers’ Sigh and Runners’ High,
it is rarely talked about in public. People often hesitate to discuss aloud their intimate feelings, their great passions. We don’t like to wear our hearts on our sleeves.
Hikers’ bliss is most often found in people who walk in natural areas, the places beyond the pavement, shopping centres and human settlements. You don’t have to go far away; you simply have to find a trail that leads you into a grassy meadow, a craggy hillside or the forest. It must be a place where you can’t see buildings and roads, where you hear no machines. Once you’ve found such a place, it may take a few minutes to sneak up on you: the Om-m-m-m feeling.
Though Hikers’ Bliss isn’t often spoken of, it’s frequently caught on camera. Perched on a fallen tree, standing on a bluff, or traversing a meadow, photographed hikers wear the symptoms of their condition: sparkling eyes, flushed cheeks, jubilant grins. They have their arms around one another’s shoulders, or they strike a triumphant pose.
Yet, when the weekend is over and they’re back at work, the bliss is unmentionable.
“What did you do on the weekend,” asks a co-worker. “Oh, we went hiking,” is the airy reply.
Who has time for tales of glittering white trails, animal tracks, sparkling snow against blue sky and the picnic on a precipice?
Snow-shoers, a patient group of individuals often willing to travel slowly, are even quieter when it comes to public expression of the feelings they have while plumping about in the snow in all its transformational glory. It follows that those who get out into the white stuff are doubly motivated – by love of natural land wearing its winter mantle, and the many joys of the exercise.
Like a horseback ride in a meadow high above the city, being out on the trail in boots or on snowshoes can be more soul-satisfying than everyday language can express. Your life slows.
The cares of work, bills and responsibilities drift away.
On a horse, the motion of the animal, the thumps of its hooves and the squeaking of the leather saddle are sensations and sounds most of us just don’t talk about. Out on the trail, you notice a thousand details- ice crystals on the twigs, the dainty tracks of a mouse over the snow, a sprig of green pushing up through the soil. You hear birds or crickets, the wind, the cracking of snow or branches under your feet. Here there’s no rubber, steel or swaths of pavement.
Out on the trail, your senses realign themselves with an instinctive ancient reality, a One-with-Nature experience you may not have known you’d missed. Out on the trail, you look now and then at your companions, and grin at one another like fools.
Later, you might talk casually with friends about the trip.
“We had a good hike on Soames Hill,” you might say. You’ll detail where you went, but you’ll be unlikely to describe how you felt.
Whether the after-effects last for days or just a few magical hours, a singing heart and deeply satisfied soul are yours to silently cherish.