What’s the Difference Between Hiking and Wandering?

“A person does not grow from the ground like a vine or a tree, one is not part of a plot of land. Mankind has legs so it can wander.”
~ Roman Payne

When I was a kid, I was blessed to have the woods in my back yard. Every chance I got, I wandered those woods. As I grew up, I continued to go deeper, always curious to what lay beyond the next peak or in the next meadow.

Hiking never made much sense to me because I never had much use for a plan. I just wandered without expectations and that made all the difference.

There are hiking trails everywhere and books to tell you how to get there and what to expect along the way. For some reason, modern society has a “need to know” about everything.

“Will I get a good workout?” “Are there snakes, bears or mosquitos?” “When I get there, what will I see?” “Maybe we should look for another hike, that one doesn’t seem like much fun.”

Where did we lose our childlike curiosity, our sense of adventure? It’s almost like a self-defeating prophecy to expect something that has been experienced by someone else. No two people see things the same way. One man’s heaven is another man’s junkyard. What ever happened to just going out into nature without a picture-filled guidebook?

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The quote “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised” is one of the best mantras I can think of for anyone headed into the wild. And although nothing is certain, wouldn’t it be a lot more exciting if you didn’t know what to expect? Sure it’s always nice to know how far, how steep, how cold etc. but what if you left the destination a big question mark? You can turn around whenever you want—or decide to keep going. Who needs a book for that?

Wandering was and still is an honored tradition among indigenous peoples. It’s about outer and inner exploration—it’s a journey, not a destination. It’s about what happens when you leave the “need to know” on the coat hook at home and follow your intuition, your curiosity, your sense of wonder. We’re so busy getting places these days that we forget to look around on our way there.

I’ve always adhered to the principle that awareness is the key to survival. It’s also the key to discovery and spontaneous magic. It never ceases to amaze me when someone blows by me on a trail while glancing at his Fitbit. Do we really need to know about calories burned, heart rate, oxygen level, global position or anything else when we’re out in nature? What about the bear tracks that crossed the trail or the thunder heads rising in the east?

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The point is that nature is always changing and always teaching us what we can’t learn in any guidebook. Our senses, fully engaged, can reveal so much of what our inner child longs for, which in turn, helps us ford the daily grind we’ve grown accustomed to. Why not set out without expectations and let that little voice play, explore and just be. Is it that hard to give ourselves a break?

Look around, slow down, chase an unfamiliar smell, an unfamiliar sound. Walk down that little grass covered trail off the beaten path—you might be surprised at what you find. Walk the river bank alongside the main trail or better yet, walk in the river. You’re not gonna find the gold nugget where everyone else walks. There’s so much to see when you’re not looking for it and that’s the gift of wandering. Try it sometime!