This article originally appeared on The Trek, which you can read here.
I’ve always wondered why the trail calls to me so much. I know I enjoy hiking, but why do I like it so much? Why do I enjoy spending days, weeks, or months walking through the wilderness? Why do we hike? It’s arguably the main question hikers are asked before and after a long hike or a thru-hike.
I recently had the opportunity to complete one of the best professional training courses I have ever taken and the topic was self-awareness. The course was designed for leadership at my current company and designed to help our leadership grow, but I found something valuable to help me answer this question. Listen to my short story of self-discovery and perhaps you will also have a better grasp of why you enjoy hiking.
Part of the course required that I take a Myers-Briggs personality test, share it with others and listen to their results as well. It was a vulnerable yet enlightening experience. According to Myers-Briggs, I am considered an “ENTJ” personality type. The side effect of this discovery revealed the following about why I like to hike:
Accomplishment Brings Happiness
I love a good challenge. It’s built into my personality. Realizing this exposed that the adventure hiking offers me, aside from scenic views or new environments, is the sheer challenge of the experience. Give me a long-term goal and I will have the focus needed to see the big picture and execute on each step of the plan with determination, precision, and hiking poles. I love my hiking poles. I’m not sure if this matters to everyone, but another draw of being fulfilled by hiking is that it’s nearly unlimited. There are so many hiking trails available that it would be difficult to hike all of it in one lifetime. So theoretically, the potential for my happiness is also just as available.
As a strategic thinker with a knack for seeing the big picture, I have an advantage on long-distance hikes. When a problem pops up, I can zoom out to the bigger picture for perspective and then zoom back in on the crisis at hand and make a decision with the immediate circumstances I’m facing in the moment. Being able to tackle problems this way makes me adaptable to those inevitable times I will need to rethink my situation on the trail. Being adaptable means I can enjoy managing trail life rather than being overwhelmed by it.
I’m an extrovert. I can naturally strike up a conversation with other hikers (strangers) easily and it feeds my energy level. The flip side of this is that I have to put a lot of effort into managing my mental space on trails with little human interaction. I’m getting better at that. I discovered more good news when I realized that compared to some other ENTJ personalities, I have a great deal of tact. The decisive/commanding nature of an ENTJ personality that is usually off-putting is heavily tempered with my soft, tactful nature. Lacking that negativity makes conversation around the campfire a real treat.
At the same time, I found out that emotional expression isn’t my strong suit. As far as hiking goes, that’s OK. Emotional expression isn’t usually required in my experience. The bad news is that if I do get emotional, regardless of the cause, it will typically dominate my mental space and decision-making until I process it. I just have to accept this as my personal challenge. Knowing this fact is better than dealing with the inevitability in ignorance, so I still consider it a positive.
My Philosophical Side
I love intellectual challenges. Trail conversation often trends toward philosophical discussion, in my experience. I’m not sure if it’s because people have newfound time to think in that direction or because I manage to subconsciously point things that direction. Either way, I love it!
The introspection brought to light some reasons for hiking that may or may not be related to my personality. In part, I hike because I can due to personal health challenges. When I was in middle school, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It’s an autoimmune disease that primarily affects the gastrointestinal tract among other things. I’m not asking for pity here, though. In fact, I’m grateful beyond expression that my body is nearly symptom free and I’m able to go on hiking adventures. To put this in perspective, there were times when I literally crawled from my bed to the bathroom in pain. Compare that to hiking hundreds of miles outdoors and perhaps my experience becomes palpable.
Why Do You Hike?
I wrote this post because I want to inspire you to peek past some of the common answers. Let’s take a look at a few common answers before we look beyond them:
—I’m not sure.
—Because I can.
—Walking off some “baggage”/needed some time to think.
—To spend time with my (insert relative/friend).
—To prove to myself I can do something like this (something big).
—I wasn’t happy.
—A spiritual experience/inner reflection.
—Because I love nature.
Maybe one of these resounds with you or maybe not, but what specifically drew you into hiking to try to resolve these needs or desires? Maybe the answer to “Why do you hike (long distances)?” has more to do with who you are on the inside than what you are looking for in nature. Maybe that’s why we are drawn into that environment to seemingly “answer life’s questions” as opposed to some other solution or adventure.
Most people admit they are a different person after hiking long distances. Is that true? Did you (or will you) become someone different? Perhaps you will simply discover more about yourself that was on the inside your entire life waiting to be revealed on the trail. There’s only one way to find out: see you on the trail!
Did any of you get those answers to “life’s questions” out on the trail? Tell me about it in the comments if you did.