Hiking, Backpacking, or Just Enjoy the Walk

“Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”   John Muir
I’ve spent a lot of my adult life walking long distances, without a trail to follow, through wild and untouched places, mostly as part of my job. This can be a thousand miles or substantially more some years and it was usually the most enjoyable part of my work.
Walking gives you a lot of time to think or meditate and is really a lost art to modern folks.  I have worked with college students who don’t know how far or fast a human can walk in a day or even in an hour.
Hiker with walking cane, hat and backpack – Photographer: Eduard Schlochauer – via Getty Images)
I find that I walk a little slower than most of my colleagues and friends.  I am a natural saunterer and like to look around which is maybe why, as an archaeologist, I find a lot of artifacts and cultural features when I walk.  I want to take in the landscape, the plants, animals, the geology, and the smells of a place. I like to walk in silence.  It is rarely a race for me and I don’t like to focus on the destination as much as the walk.  Many people I know walk with a pack by putting their head down and looking at the ground while trying to walk as fast as their bodies will take them along.  This is no fun to me.  Walking is about the most enjoyable thing I can do.  That’s why I’m so fond of writers like John Muir and Henry David Thoreau.  They loved to walk and see its value on so many levels.
So, I’d like to suggest leaving the insanity behind for a while, pack a small rucksack, grab your best guy or gal friend, and take a walk in the wild.  Your mind will thank you for the break.
Who knows what great memories you’ll make along the way?
When I’m asked if I want to go hiking or backpacking I usually say ‘no but I’ll walk with you while you hike.’
I’m strange that way, I know.

14 thoughts on “Hiking, Backpacking, or Just Enjoy the Walk

  1. It has a lot to do with who I’m with and the reason for the hike/walk. Sometimes it’s a saunter – searching for morels or taking photos. Other times it’s a fast-paced hike – when I’m getting low on food and want to get to my resupply.

  2. Yes! I’m usually referred to as ” the lagger” but what’s the point of traveling if you can’t enjoy the journey? I tell people we are all going to cross the same finish line one day and I’m in no damn hurry to get there!!

  3. Hello George. I must say this post really struck a resonate chord with me. Saunter is definitely the way I go and wander into the world. Due to injuries, however, the “walking” ability is quite limited these days… but this notion of saunter is also an apt way of describing my bicycle journeys these days (slow roll with lots of stops and wonderment). Did you know that many of those who are extended journies via bicycle around the world second your usage of the “saunter” idea? Thank you too for pointing out the root. This is fantastic! (And thanks you too for all your other interesting posts!). Cheers! b.

    1. Thanks a lot Blair. It’s great to hear these things from other people. In the modern world I sometimes feel isolated and wonder if there are any like-minds out there. Through the blog, I talk to quite a few.

      1. Hi George. I know the feeling of isolation and being different and walking a different path… “stranger in a strange (and wonderful) land” if you will. But there are those who appear who (thanks to things like your blog) that show that there are many others walking/sauntering upon a unique path with heart and soul. Thanks again for sharing your journey and insights. ) b.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve at times been to the same places backpacking or climbing, and returned as a hunter. The experience is usually far richer when I’m hunting, an activity which makes sauntering look overly enthusiastic. I see more wildlife, notice more flowers, see more things to forage or simply enjoy looking at.

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