People often ask me whether I enjoy hiking. Living in Munich, it's no coincidence that the mountains are a huge part of life for the people who live nearby. So every now and then, the conversations I have tend to take a turn in that direction.
It's a tricky question to answer. Do I enjoy hiking?
Well, yes, and no. I have a complicated relationship with mountains.
I was born in New Delhi, which, for those who aren't familiar, is this giant cosmopolitan which seems to keep growing. But the one thing that is not within its boundaries, is mountains. The Indian sub-continent is home to most of the highest peaks in the world, but all of them (not that I would go hiking there for fun anyway) are at least a few hundred kilometers away.
The point is, mountains weren't a part of my growing up.
But a few things have changed since then. I've started calling Munich as my home, and have married someone who spent literally all her childhood exploring the spectacular mountain range of the Alps. This, and the close proximity that Munich has to the Alps, is probably why I've started finding myself more and more in the mountains.
I wouldn't call the transition linear. In this article, I'll try my best to describe how it all happened.
I can't recall exactly how I felt when I first stood before a mountain (with an intention to climb it).
The (intentionally) hectic life of big cities and the calm atmosphere that mountains offer do not exactly go hand-in-hand. I've had the chance to experience this first hand. Being used to the "big-city" feeling and only knowing nature from the books, it was quite interesting to experience nature at its absolute raw. So I've had my share of conflicts, both internal and with other more enthusiastic hikers (aka the Mrs).
But the conflicts have since then reduced. Hiking is something I've started to enjoy a little bit. And while I can't recall exactly how I felt when I first stood before a mountain, wanting to climb it, it's safe to say that it was very similar to how I feel now when I go for a hike.
I see this giant piece of rock, right there in front of me. Calm, serene, a bit arrogant, but most of all, majestic. I know that this thing was formed because the planet decided to make some random movements in random directions, but it still feels designed. As if someone literally chiselled away at it until it was perfect.
I want to climb it, I think? The Mrs is usually more enthusiastic about this than I am, so I guess a better way to describe it is that I want to want to climb it. But the mountain thinks otherwise. It just stands there, completely ignoring of all that is going on in my head. Kind of like saying - you know, I see your point, but I don't really buy it. I doubt myself whether I would be able to make it all the way to the top. I'm a bit unsure, but there's only one way to find out. So I start walking.
The beginnings are all well and good. This is not so bad, I usually think to myself. Maybe it just looks harder than it actually is.
Slowly though, as the ascent steepens, my mind starts playing a version of good-cop-bad-cop. With every single step I take, the bad-cop asks me to make a turn back and go home instead. How much better would it be if I was on the couch right now. But then the good-cop kicks in with its own arguments. Don't I want to burn all the calories I gained from that pizza yesterday? Wouldn't it be nice to have some physical movement for a change?
This whole spiel continues basically until I reach the top. It is in these moments that I realize how fascinating my mind's ability to make up BS really is.
Another cool thing about the climb is how quickly the landscape changes. As you gain height, things on the ground start appearing smaller and smaller. You start seeing more and more peaks around you. The nature gets more and more pristine. And if you started hiking early in the morning, you have it basically all to yourself. It's also a good time for you and your SO to have conversations beyond the daily drill, in case you happen to be hiking with your SO.
You see people of all kinds walking past. The single-backpackers, the ones who run (!) up the mountain, the city-couple trying to walk up in fancy shoes/heels, the slightly older crowed (which btw is a group that makes the bad-cop feel especially bad). Normally while on the ground, I probably wouldn't strike up a conversation with them at random. On the climb however, given that we share the common goal of reaching the top, it feels a bit more natural to smile and say Servus.
Reaching the peak is always a special moment. We usually start quite early (often times starting the climb at 5.30 in the morning), so we also tend to reach the top really early. So a nice consequence is that we have the entire peak to ourselves until a few others join in.
Anyway, I again can't recall exactly how I felt when I first reached the top of a mountain. But it was pretty similar to how I feel now.
I feel small. Everything that I see around me that's not a part of the mountain I'm on, is at least a few kilometers away. It looks much smaller than it actually is, because, well, physics. My mind somehow flips the whole thing over. It makes me feel tiny. As if in the grand scheme of things, I don't matter. Not a single one of us matters. All the stuff that we argue over in our daily lives - the inconveniences, things not going according to what we planned, traffic jams, trains getting delayed, appointments, fights - everything just vanishes. I see the ground from the peak, and everything looks tiny, insignificant, inconsequential, kind of like a rounding error in the larger scheme of things.
At the same time, I feel at one with nature. That's the one time when I feel connected to this planet that we call home. I look up and I see the sky. I look down and I see the ground. Raw, unprocessed, untouched, ground. That's basically all there is to it. And yet, it gives me this weirdly spiritual experience that I find hard to put down in words.
So do I enjoy hiking? Well, yes, and no. But more yes than no.
I don't particularly enjoy taking the first steps to climb up a mountain. I hate pushing my physical boundaries, straining my legs, the constant being-out-of-breath while you're tired, constant back and forth between the two sides of my head arguing with each other if going hiking was a good decision.
But once I reach the top, I realize how pointless all that back and forth was, and yet still, how I would probably do all of it over again to experience how it is like to be at the top.