As a New Year’s resolution, I set the challenge for myself to find and hike 20 trails within 20 minutes of my home. The basic premise is to find a way to hike more and drive less. I also anticipated the secondary benefit of getting to know the trails in my area (Carlsbad) better. However, it’s the unexpected benefit of using this challenges to re-calibrate what I appreciate about hiking that has given me the most satisfaction.
Like all hikers (and humans), I carry a set of values into everything that I do. In terms of hiking, those values include preferences for wilderness trails without devoid of other hikers that show no sign of civilization, invasive plants, or other “blots” on the landscape. In the past, I have been willing to drive hours just to seek that out for a few hours of hiking. And while I still absolutely love that experience, I have come to realize that the detriments of that approach go beyond spending more money on gas and pumping more carbon into the air.
The real lesson and practice lies in setting aside those preferences in order to enjoy a thing for what it is, as opposed to devaluing it for what it isn’t. Take the Rancho Carrillo Trails, for instance. This City of Carlsbad trail network encircles a grassy little canyon peppered with non-native invasives and hemmed in on all side by suburban development. I’ve driven by it hundreds of times and never paid it any mind. It looked like a boring place to hike, and therefore I assumed there was no value in it.
Having now hiked it with a deliberate, good-faith effort to find everything of value that I could, I’ve walked away with a new appreciation. The trail is 8 minutes and 4.2 miles from my house. It’s a solid 3.1 miles with 450 feet of elevation gain if I tack on an out-and-back climb to Simmons Hilltop Park. There is a nice mixture of riparian vegetation and coastal sage-scrub scattered about, some of which is beginning to blossom right now. And most importantly, such an experience fits into those occasionally brief windows where I have an hour to spend. In the past, I might have spent that time on Facebook, but instead I have a tailor-made option for a solid, head-clearing exercise.
It’s a constant struggle to maintain an awareness of and temper my values to the point where I’m able to experience genuine gratitude and appreciation for what I’m given, regardless of how flawed I might otherwise judge it to be. These little local meditations have been a fine way to examine that tendency and work to balance it out against a healthier attitude, not just about hiking, but about everything in life. It’s a fine thing to set challenges testing yourself against huge mountains or massive distances, but sometimes the tougher challenge is testing yourself against yourself.