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The Joys of Hiking

Natalie Torta, C'24


Welcome back to my page, Mounties!

The weather today has been exceptionally nice, so I’ve even had a chance to open up my windows and let some fresh air in. I don’t have the beautiful backdrop of the Catoctin Mountains to complete the view, but I guess route 322 will suffice.

I recently bought a watercolor print of the view from the Grotto lookout (The artist is Leigh Barry and she has some awesome work! Check out this print in her Etsy shop.) It shows just the green dome of the seminary peeking out from the fall foliage all the hills roll in the background. It is a beautiful image, made better by the fact that I have stood in that spot and seen that perspective myself many times, so it is almost nostalgic. I hung the print on my wall, hoping to elicit memories of visits to the grotto or walks around the seminary. While those thoughts are certainly in the mix, it also takes me back to all of my failed hiking trips, since this spot served as our meeting and starting point. All the things that made hiking miserable fill my mind – invisible strands of hair sticking to my sweaty forehead, rocks slipping under my feet as I stumble along the path, animal calls coming from deep in the woods – definitely not my idea of “fun”. It was, however, an enjoyable activity for my friends, so I went begrudgingly. When we finally reached the end of whatever trail we were taking, they were always in awe of the view. No matter which trail (and we did a lot), I was never taken by the hills and trees in the distance. I guess, for them, the pretty view was worth the treachery to get there. Or maybe they somehow enjoyed tripping over rocks and sweating through their clothes, I don’t know.

When I was deciding whether to attend the Mount, one of the selling points that admissions stressed was the opportunity to be in the outdoors. I had never been hiking and was excited to try it out, plus the trails around campus looked beautiful. I specifically packed sneakers and some running shorts with these activities in mind, so you could say I was confident in this being my new “thing”. I guess I’m at least grateful that the walking trails worked out, but I very quickly realized that hiking was not for me. I love the idea of hiking – fresh air, beautiful scenery, exercise – but in actuality, I was too distracted by the sweat and fear of wild animals to enjoy it.

 I attended Mount 101, a two-week immersion program that helps with the transition from high school to college. Part of the deal was early move-in, which meant that the twenty or so of us were the only ones on campus, so the group leaders did their best to get us to interact with one another. Throughout the course of the two weeks, there were several hiking opportunities – some voluntary and some not – that were meant to catalyze team bonding. I think the idea is that if a group overcomes a struggle or challenge together, with time along the way to talk and get to know each other, we will come out of the experience emotionally bonded. I only ended up going on one hike with the Mount 101 group. I had introduced myself to no one prior to this hike and that didn’t change once we started walking. I hung towards the back simply for lack of people to walk with, but it ended up being a good spot for me because I was quickly winded. Not to push all the blame for my unfitness on others, but it didn’t really help me (or anyone, really) that the lacrosse recruits were setting the pace at the front of the pack. 

Once we hit a marker that was about a mile away from the end, everyone’s phones suddenly chimed simultaneously. Warning: Flash flood warning in place for the next two hours. Are you kidding me? As if this wasn’t traumatic enough. The worst part though? The group opted to keep going. So now I’m stumbling through the woods, barely keeping pace with my classmates, drenched from the humidity, and operating under the fear of an imminent wash out. Fantastic. We finally got to the top, took a few pictures, and turned around to head back. Luckily, the hike down is always faster than the journey up, so it was a short trip back to my dorm where I knew a hot shower and change of clothes was waiting for me. Some people made plans to get dinner together, others to work on their papers, but all I wanted to do was shower and pass out.

Though the hike was miserable for more one reason, I did enjoy the hot shower and sense of satisfaction when we finally got back to campus. There is nothing better after a hard day than the relief that comes with retrospect. The best way to welcome that, in my opinion, is to wash the day off – literally. I find that I tend to have a better outlook when I’m clean versus drenched in sweat and frustration. I may not have enjoyed the hike, but I like being able to say that I went on a hike. A small accomplishment, but an accomplishment nonetheless. Due to a lack of mountain, now that I’m remote, I’m not going on weekend hikes in my spare time. I am walking the three-mile loop around my neighborhood a few times a week, but that’s not really the same. Here, I am motivated by seeing all of the dogs on their walks, the chalk drawings on the sidewalks, and progress on the new construction taking place. While I don’t have a strenuous physical activity in my life currently, I do have many intellectual and psychological ones. I, along with many others, do not necessarily enjoy writing papers, clocking in at work, or doing laundry, among other things. I do these things out of utility and obligation rather than an innate desire to derive happiness from them, though that’s not to say that you cannot do both. I just get to the happiness part afterwards rather than in the practice of the activity. I may not like doing homework or chores, but I love having nothing on my to-do list, so I do them anyway. Followed by a shower, that satisfaction of being done with something unpleasant can’t be beat.

If you got nothing else from this, consider it your sign to do whatever responsibilities you’re currently ignoring. Start your research paper. Wash the pile of dirty clothes that has accumulated in the corner. Take a walk outside today. I can’t promise that you’ll like it, but you will definitely like being done with it. Act with the reassurance that we suffer together, because anyone who claims to actually enjoy those things is lying. Until next time, go Mount!

Natalie Torta, C'24