Stories from the Trail

Soren West: Why I Hike

Soren West and his dog, Theo, on Franconia Ridge, New Hampshire.

Soren West and his dog, Theo, on Franconia Ridge, New Hampshire.

Mountains have a voice: soft, powerful and compelling. The voice comes from on high. A deep inner silence hears it. An infinite, sun-lit vista tugs at the heart like a full moon over an endless ocean.

Hiking is other; it takes you into a world, not of our making. During one of my preparatory hikes, I said to one of my grandsons, “Remember John Paul, we hike to do it — and we hike to have done it.”

I will mine the treasures of the Appalachian Trail for the rest of my life. From my post-trail writing: The A.T. allowed me to detox from society and the enculturation that had eroded the natural man and wild heart of my youth. The A.T. was hard, demanding endurance and perseverance, but I was free from the influences of a culture built on excessive consumption. We love what demands much of us. The A.T. demanded enough that it has forever changed me.

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I had hiked in the White Mountains of New Hampshire as a 12-year-old and the view from Franconia Ridge never left me. 63 years later, I was back. I wrote:

Mist and clouds formed and separated, came and went, again and again, opening up views and shutting them off in a fantastic weather show, the wind howling all the while. Something in me came uncorked, and I howled back at Mother Nature with a primitive cry from deep within. I faced her head-on and relished the encounter.

My grandson Thomas captured a moment of that sublime connection, with Theo at my feet, the two of us touching the heart and core of what our adventure was all about.