Me, all geared up to hike in 1987.
Admitting this could get me in trouble, but the other day I hit the trail by myself without a map, compass, water bottle, or any of the other 10 Essentials. I had just a vague plan to run on a certain trail for a while.
Before we go too far, I'll explain that the trail was in a Connecticut state forest just a few miles from the home I grew up in, not atop some remote peaks or across vast wilderness. I told someone where I was headed (generally) and about how long I'd be gone. And I'd been on parts of the trail many times before, though not recently.
Turns out, it was a lot more fun running around in the woods by myself with no real objective other than to run around, than it sometimes is on a well-planned trail run or hike. I couldn't tune out my surroundings, but had to notice where I was going and how I'd get back (if not for survival, then to spare some embarrassment). I backtracked. I made choices. I tuned in. I wished I hadn't left the the hip belt for my water bottle in Maine, so I could run farther.
While the area was familiar, I didn't know exactly what lay ahead or how far away. It felt more like exploring than simply running or hiking, more fun.
I was surprised by cliffs and boulders (I'd incorrectly assumed I'd nostalgically inflated any ruggedness), had to stay aware of trail intersections and random paths that came and went (I remembered some, discovered others), and I remembered.
I remembered not just the trail and its twists and turns, but the experience. Because this is what I did as a kid on these very trails and in other woods. As a kid, I climbed up the trail I "discovered" and looked for blue blazes and turns till I found the cave that I'd heard about. I scrambled up rocks to an overlook. I'd come back and do it again, going farther or in another direction at an intersection.
As a kid, I played it by ear until it was time to go home. I wore sneakers and cotton (check out the picture above), and I didn't realize that maybe I should have a map, water, a plan.
If I had planned my run the other day with a map, the right gear, a goal in mind, it still would have been a nice run or hike — probably a longer, more impressive run or hike — but it would have lost some of its sense of wonder. I doubt I'd have been quite as tuned in to the here-and-now experience.
I'm not suggesting anyone ditch safety precautions and maps, or be unprepared or irresponsible, especially on more taxing hikes. (In fact, I've been searching for a good trail map of that area since my run, so I can go farther next time.)
But I did emerge from the woods with some extra mud and scratches and a better consciousness of where I'd been, both that day and as a kid.