Embracing Hiking Mediocrity at Lunch Rocks

I’ve confessed before to becoming a bit of a hiking snob lately. I’m pretty vocal about differentiating between “hikes” and “walks” (in my small-minded view of the world, a hike gives you views, makes you sweat, and can create soreness, while a “walk” is a flat-ish trial in the woods where you’d take your dog or parents), I’ve found myself mentally eschewing hikes less than three miles, and if I don’t have the time to drive an hour to a “real hike” I’ll often find myself skipping out and hitting the gym, even though I find being out in nature to be the better feeling. 

I might be a bit snobby with hiking, but I’m not insufferable yet.  I’m pretty open about preferring day hikes to backpacking, repeat the same hikes often, and firmly believe too many people miss bagging local hikes often in lieu of only hiking a few times a year at Instagrammable national parks, so found myself relating to the opening line of a profile on Amber Tariq, who runs the Instagram account @brownpeoplecamping. “Ambreen Tariq is a ‘mediocre’ outdoorswoman — and proud of it.”

“I’m very proudly mediocre when it comes to the outdoors. I’ll go a couple miles. I love going car camping,” Tariq says in the piece. “Have I done backpacking? Yes. But I love car camping. I love hauling everything and making the campsite my kitchen.” She continues, “All the images that we’ve been fed about what it means to be an outdoorsman — it’s always that it’s an outdoors man, very masculine, very much about conquering nature.” Then the piece’s writer steps in and says, “the idea that you continually have to be building up to longer hikes, steeper climbs, and more hardcore thrill-seeking to be considered outdoorsy doesn’t fit with Tariq’s personal experience in nature — let alone her experience as a woman of color.”

It’s an interesting piece and well worth a read—there is so much gatekeeping when it comes to who is a “real outdoorsman (or woman),” which I’d love to do a longer piece on sometime soon when I have the time (i.e., when I stop spending hours a day YouTube wormholing and Instagram stalking), but what stood out here, is the constant need to go harder, better, faster, stronger, which is something I hate to say I find myself doing. 

Luckily, there’s always reality to check our assholery, which happened recently when a friend asked me to take a hike on a Tuesday night after we both worked. Not wanting to drive far, and with the daylight waning, he suggested a section of the Mountains to Sea Trail starting at the Western North Carolina Folk Center and ending at the Haw Creek Overlook. In my mind, I dismissed this as a walk versus a hike because it A) wasn’t very far out of town, B) didn’t look like it would be strenuous, and C) it wasn’t harder, better, faster, stronger, or anything that could remotely be considered “hardcore.” I even vocalized this as we started walking. However, I ended up having a lovely time. Sometimes a walk in the woods is all you need, sometimes (often) a worthwhile hike doesn’t have to tax your body, and stunning views aren’t always necessary when you’re catching up with a friend in nature without the distractions modern life so often limits us with. Plus, the Haw Creek Overlook view, where we decided to chill for a while before turning around, ain’t too shabby.

So, I’ve been brought down a peg, which is good. It’s good to have friends and experiences that keep you in check. As I said, I didn’t believe myself insufferable yet, but the potential was there. Plus, I have something new to add to my close-to-town hikes list!

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