What is Hiking?
Just about every Sunday afternoon, I take a break from whatever I'm doing and go to a nearby city park. I walk about a quarter of a mile into the woods, find my favorite rock, sit down and have a cigar. I listen to the birds, watch the ducks and other animals, look around at the trees and other plants, and just observe what's going on in the natural world around me.
Most people would say that's not much of a hike.
One summer afternoon, as I finished my annual “birthday hike” up and down Mount Jackson, I met a man who described his hike to me. Huffing and puffing, and sweating a small rivulet, he told me that he had gone the exact same way I had, but he had done the circuit in two and a quarter hours, while it had taken me over six hours.
In my view, that's not much of a hike.
To me, hiking is more about being here and less about getting there. I'm rarely eager about getting back!
If you race up and down Mount Jackson as fast as your feet can carry you, you might not notice the peculiar geology of Gibbs Falls, where the cascade has changed course some time in the past century or so. You might not wonder, as the gray jays at the summit take gorp from your hand, why some of them prefer the peanuts and others prefer the raisins. You probably wouldn't discover that green frogs (Rana clamitans, not just green in color) live in Tisdale Spring, nor marvel that these creatures of the lowland swamps and ponds manage to survive in this unlikely, hostile environment less than fifty feet below timberline.
Hiking is being in a peaceful, natural place, and taking time to smell the roses, or whatever flowers happen to be there, or to listen to the birds, or to watch the animals, or to contemplate the land and the processes that shape it. It's just observing nature first-hand.
By that definition, then, there are many activities (or inactivities) that would qualify as “hiking.” By conventional definition, of course, it means walking, but I would also include canoeing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snorkeling, or almost any non-mechanized transport.
Once you bring machine or animal power into the situation, I think you're stretching too far. The noise of a snowmobile drowns out the song of the loudest bird. The need to pay attention to your horse means less time looking at the sky. Even a bicycle makes the experience too much like operating a machine and not enough like being here.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I object to these activities (well, maybe snowmobiling), it's just that these are not the things I do when I want to get in touch with the natural world. They're not what I call hiking.