By Mark Bates
The forest floor, the duff, is different here in Hong Kong. I grew up walking in wooded lots in North East Washington state. Later I walked in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. Those hills are mostly brown and dry and covered with tarantula holes and dead chaparral. Quite a different context for hiking as cure.
This is the jungle. Werner Herzog was right. It’s prehistorical here.
I don’t especially like physical exercise. I hate it, really. It’s boring, and painful, and repetitive and just generally awful.
Being a secondary school teacher in the time of the Great Pandemic, I’ve had lots of free time lately.
So I’ve been hiking. I like being in nature, as long as I have sun protection and a good companion who understands the art of conversation.
I like hiking with someone who’s been on the trails before, and who’s patient with my less than stellar physical shape. I’m middle aged. I’m fat.
No one is more surprised than me that I’m slowly becoming not fat.
My legs were destroyed after we hiked Cloudy Hill. Destroyed.
It took three days before the pain went away.
I expected the leg pain after the second hike, but it never came. Even though I biked for an hour the next day, there was no pain.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got my ailments. A bad disc. I’ve got an obnoxious knee. The hair on top of my head is uncooperative.
Getting out is good. We have to socially distance ourselves, yes, that’s smart. It’s what we should be doing. But it’s perfectly easy to get distance up in the mountains. When I’m in the mountains…
I get distance from
- The noise and smell and sight of cars
- Ground-level smog
- Weird vibrations
- Artificial light
- Walls and doors
- Chest pain
- The uncontrollable desire to eat processed foods
- My sofa
Getting out is good. What’s inside is boring and unmoving and unbreathing. When I’m on the mountain I can’t imagine being in another place. Why would you be in another place? Hiking is the cure. The last artificial thing you hear as you head up is the crackle of power lines.
It’s often quiet on the mountain. The mountains aren’t silent, of course. There are so many sounds. When I’m in the mountains…
- Water falling on rocks
- Water moving in the river
- Wind moving through the trees
- Wind gusts blowing hard in my ears
- Crunch of gravel or dirt
- My joints popping
- Speech and conversation
The views are fantastic. Especially when we hiked Lamma Island. They’re also convenient spots to rest.
I have to rest a lot. Steps are the worst. Unevenly-spaced steps are really the worst. Unevenly-spaced steps that are slick in the rain are the ultimate worst.
Every step is medicine. It’s good medicine. Medicine for physical maladies whose only cause are inactivity. It’s the cure for those. It is the remediation. It’s medicine for the mind and the heart and the soul – medicine for my nervous disposition, for my overconsumption of calories. It’s medicine for my psyche.
Most medicine has side effects. Hiking has side effects. One of them is you keep hiking. There’s a rhythm to it. You meet up, you get to the trailhead, and you start. It’s easy at first. It’s hiking as cure.
Mark is from Southern California. He’s discovered real happiness working and living outside of the United States. He’s a fan of ice hockey, progressive politics, Indian food, pleasant people, responsible discourse, and lite beer. He lives in Hong Kong with his spouse and a cat named “Butter.”