In Present, In the Woods

The fun of hiking is in the ambiguity. Despite occasional man-paved log steps, there’s no road per se. You have to figure it out on the way. And the complexity of the environment makes it impossible to plan more than several steps ahead.

Instead, you just walk—as soon as you lift your foot you start to assess where to land, and in that transient moment before your weight leans completely to your lifted foot, you make a decision. It could be a good one—a flat surface where you can rest and balance. But more often than not it’d be bad, as there just aren’t so many good ones available. You have to set you foot on a tiny, cranky shape of stone where you can barely linger. Therefore, you immediately lift another foot and again—you assess. It goes on and on.

Though the hiking direction is mostly determined, the exact steps you will take remain unknown. You have to be laser-focus and truly walk each and every step.

My first hike—last week—was quite an adventure. It was a nearly five miles round trip, and the latter part of the trail was all covered in snow. Ignorant as I was, I wore a pair of flat running sneakers (big mistake, I know). As a result I had some biggest standing fiascos since my babyhood. It was so slippery that at some point I had to thrust my bare hands into the snow and crawl my way up a steep narrow slope.

It was an adventure that I could not go through had I not with my friends. One friend suggested using my jacket (later my scarf) as a rope, she held one end and I held the other, so that if one were to fall the other person could give a pull. That helped balance a lot. Another two friends used their boots to make us a way. They stamped heavily onto the snow and left behind footsteps which we could rely on. It was in this journey I came to understand the word “trailblazer” in a literal and tangible way.

However mocking I sound after the fact, it was quite terrifying. I was never a brave person so to speak—timid, you could even say, the kind of domesticated timidity possessed by someone growing up amidst skyscrapers. I was particularly worried halfway, knowing that I had to traverse the snow once again to get back down, while I didn’t have much strength left. To my surprise, the way back was easier and faster, perhaps partly due to experience.

I came to realize: in face of fear, you don’t ask how you are gonna make it, as the idea perceived as an abstract whole is daunting and paralyzing. The ask will not lead to answer but despair. The only thing you have to do—or can do is to focus on where next you set your foot on. Unable to spare attention a few steps further, you concentrate on surviving the moment with every small step, slowly and steadily. It is in this way of walking the present moment you make through undertakings that was earlier unimaginable.