I’ve been walking to keep somewhat sane my entire life, but it only occurred to me to formalize these walks when things began to feel very distinctly insane. We all need some structure, right? About a year into my post-graduate underemployment spell—which is now my established status quo—I decided it might be worth the tradeoff in grocery money to splurge on gas once a month and treat myself to a day out. Given that underemployment and languor are now officially part of my life, I concluded that a monthly day off from brooding in my rented room about my existential dilemma is necessary for sanity maintenance and in turn survival. That is, I began to realize that if I were to continue to maintain an uninterrupted lifestyle of a nocturnal recluse for much longer, I would soon sink into an irreversible depressive coma, my brain would completely atrophy, and I would become a zombie catatonic idgit before my thirtieth birthday. Or, at least, I’d go from being only half crazy to being totally crazy; of this I am certain.
I decided to devote my monthly day off from life to the pseudo-hiking hobby that I have taken up over the years. I say pseudo-hiking because literally claiming that I have a “hiking” hobby would imply that I do stuff like climb the Himalayas and the Rockies and trek around the Grand Canyon and wrestle all those other majestic landscapes where you would place the image of a lone, proud, person with exceptionally toned calf muscles when you hear the word “hiking.” In reality my hiking hobby is more along the lines of me roaming around the local conservation parklands not too far from the interstate in a weedy thicket up to my knees trying to figure out where it was that I had wandered off the trail that’s supposed to lead to a pretty stream or overlook that I can’t find and wishing that I hadn’t drank so much coffee before taking off for a place that has no public restrooms and also berating myself, once again, for not having the common sense to wear something a little more conducive to “hiking” than flip flops. And also, often feeling too distracted by gnawing hunger to actually be cognizant of any aspect of my surroundings.
I find that hiking is a great way for me to get my mind off things. Granted, when I am hiking, I am still mulling over the Big Questions of the Shit, what am I going to DO with my life? variety in the back of my mind, and I am still always fantasizing about peppermint mocha triple lattes. But I’m also preoccupied by nursing the new wound on my toe that I acquired after tripping over a fallen branch with my flip-flopped feet, swatting gnats and mosquitoes out of my face, obsessively checking myself for ticks, and having a panic attack at the sight of a 6-inch garter snake swiggling across my path. And then I have the benefit of going home and being able to tell everyone that I’m an outdoorsy person, that I can navigate the banks of the local brooks and streams and rivers as intimately as the now-almost-forgotten American Indians from which the names of these nearby tributaries have all been derived. And that I LOVE wildlife.
Except that I rarely make it to the scenic pinnacle or watery destination of these hiking excursions. By the time I find my way back to the designated trail and figure out which way I need to go to get to the pretty and quiet, secluded place that I’m trying to find on the park map, I have to pee REALLY bad and I’m also too thirsty and tired to do anything besides turn around and go back to my car, which hopefully doesn’t have a parking ticket.
In light of these circumstances, I thought it would be more appropriate to call my monthly hiking excursions my Monthly Sanity Walks. And I thought it might be interesting to document every now and then what happens during my aimless, agoraphobic walks in the woods. The documenting will more likely be on the then side of the equation given my lackadaisical approach to . . . everything . . . these days. We’ll see what becomes of my umpteenth writing experiment which I begin and then . . . never mind. In the meantime, you can muse the downed sign I found and unskillfully photographed with my cell phone during my March sanity walk (Yes, I attempted to scratch the location out of the photo). Such a perfect metaphor, I thought—