Why do we hike?

Researchers on the PCT
PCTA researchers Briget Eastep and Marni Goldenberg with Mt. Shasta in the background. (photo courtesy of PCTA)

In addition to being Trailspace's Community Evangelist, I spend a fair amount of time working with the Pacific Crest Trail Association to help protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile path from Mexico to Canada that traces some of the most spectacular mountains in the west.

PCTA's mission includes coordinating volunteers to maintain the trail, protecting the trail corridor from threats, and working with the Forest Service to keep the trail open and safe.

Why do we do what we do? Hikers know intuitively that the PCT experience is valuable. The experience itself is seductive enough to call millions to hike and thousands to volunteer and maintain the trail. Physiologically, we know that hiking benefits our bodies, increasing calcium deposition in the bones, reducing blood pressure, increasing lean muscle mass and improving blood chemistry. Plus, it just feels good! But until recently there's been little research on what psychological benefits the PCT provides, and how different people get different benefits from the PCT experience.

The following is an excerpt from an article entitled "The Value of Hiking the PCT," by Katherine Soule and Marni Goldenberg, which appeared in the July 2011 PCT Communicator magazine:

PCTA Researcher departs
Briget Eastep near Castle Crags State Park. (photo courtesy of PCTA)

In July 2010, researchers Marni Goldenberg and Briget Eastep caught up with the “herd” of hikers near Mount Shasta to discover the benefits of long distance hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Known as the “Research Girls,” they hiked for four days, interviewing a group of 37 male and 19 female hikers between 20 and 66 years old.  The hikers participated in more than 13 hours of interviews and had hiked a cumulative 78,382 miles on the PCT at the time of their interviews. Data from the interviews was transcribed, coded, and entered into a qualitative data analysis software program.

The research revealed a number of outcomes from hiking the trail. The overall experience, the physical act of hiking, and the interactions with hiking partners caused hikers to have new experiences and opportunities and improve their fitness. The opportunity for new experiences led to developing backpacking and long distance hiking skills, increasing environmental appreciation, and feeling challenged. In turn, these caused hikers to develop new perspectives, which led to personal growth. Hikers believed that they will transfer the benefits and lessons learned from their PCT experience into other areas of their lives. Additionally, these hikers believe that the PCT has increased their fun and enjoyment of life as well as causing them to have warm relationships with other people.

The researchers discovered interesting differences between male and female PCT hikers.

Female hikers appeared to gain self-respect, esteem, or confidence from their Trail experiences, especially through hiking and interacting with other people. Male hikers appeared to enjoy warm relationships with others through their new perspectives gained from hiking, the new experiences and opportunities the Trail provides, and being in the wilderness or outdoors.

While the experience of long-distance hiking on the PCT is truly different for each hiker, the experience does offer numerous life values including a sense of belonging, self-fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment, appreciation, self-awareness, self-respect/esteem/confidence, warm relationships with others, fun and enjoyment of life, and transference of benefits of other areas of one’s life.

 Reprinted with permission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Trailspace is proud supporter of the Pacific Crest Trail Association and other outdoor and environmental non-profit organizations. Visit the PCTA website to support their mission to protect the trail, and "like" PCTA on Facebook to continue the conversation about what benefits you get from the trail.


Filed under: People & Organizations

Comments

Bill S
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December 2, 2011 at 10:20 a.m. (EST)

The purpose of hiking is to get to the climbing, then back to the car, pure and simple.

GaryPalmer
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December 2, 2011 at 11:15 a.m. (EST)

 

As Thoreau said :

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the
essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and
not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived...

And Muir said:

“Climb the mountains and get their good
tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The
winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while
cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

 

gonzan
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December 2, 2011 at 11:32 a.m. (EST)

I go out into the sphere of nature to see and know that which I may find there, and that cannot be found elsewhere.   

DrReaper
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December 2, 2011 at 2:13 p.m. (EST)

Nature offers something you can't find anywhere else.

denis daly
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December 2, 2011 at 2:36 p.m. (EST)

dr reaper+1

Rick-Pittsburgh
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December 2, 2011 at 4:25 p.m. (EST)

I do it for the peace & serenity that comes with waking up in the morning hours away from anyone in a tent to the sun coming up and frost on the ground.

I do it because no matter how many times I hike a trail I always notice something new.

I do it because I love being closer to nature more than viewing it on a tv screen or through a window in a vehicle as I am passing through.

I do it for the love of the outdoors and the adventure. 

Plain and simply put...

I do it for the passion that I have for it. 

whomeworry
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December 2, 2011 at 5:14 p.m. (EST)

Beer tastes better when cooled in a mountain stream.

Ed

GaryPalmer
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December 2, 2011 at 5:23 p.m. (EST)

 

Like Hillary said: Cause its there!

.ghost.
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December 2, 2011 at 7:33 p.m. (EST)

Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.

- Emerson

mikemorrow
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December 2, 2011 at 9:19 p.m. (EST)

To get away. No people, out alone. Listen, look and learn. Its an amazing world.

Wolfman (Wolfgang Greystoke)
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December 3, 2011 at 12:28 a.m. (EST)

Love all the views!  Ed You sound like a Coors commercial! :)  Ah that rocky mountain fresh!

I hike because I love the outdoors, nature, and all her glory.

Wolfman

apeman
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December 3, 2011 at 11:58 a.m. (EST)

Cause Mogh the Wonder Dog won't stop moving and it just makes me crazy.  Keeps him moving and keeps me un-crazy. ;-}>

davidtierney
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December 3, 2011 at 12:41 p.m. (EST)

I gotta say that Ed has encapsulated Mr. Palmer's Thoreau quote as poetically as any contemporary Feste.  Front those essential facts of life, Ed, front 'em. 

If a person is to appreciate those things which have removed us from nature and nature's incessant attempts to kill us (i.e., houses, preserved foods, etc...), you must return to nature.  By doing so, I believe, you increase your appreciation (and notice) of those things which millenia of human effort has wrought for our safety and comfort.

The juxtaposition created by Ed's can in the stream (not that can, Ed) and his stated increased appreciation of that same beer he could have pulled from his fridge at home, should serve as illustration.

giftogab
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December 3, 2011 at 12:46 p.m. (EST)

I do it for many reasons. To see what man cannot make nor can he explain away. To smell fresh air and hear the silence. To challenge myself beyond what I can do at a desk. To take in the wonder of it all and feel the fatigue at the end.

whomeworry
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December 3, 2011 at 11:55 p.m. (EST)

Dave:

You got me thinking - something that you should only do with the proper safety equipment!  Your prose was too dense for me to wrap my mind around, so I cracked open a cold one, contemplated your wisdom, and came up with this:

If the streams were as deep, here, as your musings, I would not be able to retrieve my beer from the waters, and would forced to carry an ice chest.  But I would still sally forth in any case; whiskey is best enjoyed in the warmth of close company and a good camp fire.

Ed

BigRed
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December 4, 2011 at 6:33 a.m. (EST)

Keeps me out of trouble! I am quite certain that drinking and other extracurricular activities would have dragged me down back in my 20s if inot for regular, extended escapes. Seriously.

giftogab
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December 4, 2011 at 11:25 a.m. (EST)

davidtierney said:

If a person is to appreciate those things which have removed us from nature and nature's incessant attempts to kill us (i.e., houses, preserved foods, etc...), you must return to nature.  By doing so, I believe, you increase your appreciation (and notice) of those things which millenia of human effort has wrought for our safety and comfort.

 This is EPIC for me. As I have gotten back out to the world outside, I have also drastically changed the way I eat. Fewer and fewer preserved, processed foods. Full live flavor in a live outdoors!

bheiser1
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December 4, 2011 at 3:45 p.m. (EST)

I hike to experience the natural world.  There's nothing quite like the feeling of being out in beautiful surroundings in the wilderness.

I find it disturbing that the oldest hiker they interviewed was only 66 years old.  I intend to hike well past that age...

Ray Anderson
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December 5, 2011 at 9:12 a.m. (EST)

I hike for the sense of adventure. And when I'm moving I feel good.

Patman
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December 5, 2011 at 11:13 a.m. (EST)

I should be working but must deposit two cents:

  • To start off with Backpacking is the perfect total fitness activity. Climbing up mountains with a backpack on (yes, even the small mountains we have here in the Eastern US), can deliver excellent cardiovascular exercise, improve mental health and I would say improve spiritual health (I know some don’t believe in spirits or souls, but I do).
  • The activity is joyous; it’s very good to roam the backcountry with your house on your back (even a too thin ultra-light one that occasionally drips, lol), with your only concerns being the fundamental: food, shelter, safety, etc... I covet that simplicity.
  • The wonder of our world is waiting for us to come and see, smell, feel, taste, and enjoy!
  • It’s good.

When I first read Tipi Walters trip reports here on Trailspace they evoked in me the same feeling that I felt when reading Huckleberry Finn for the first time. The adventure of being out there is a continual thrill for me. The pack and tent are indeed representative of freedom. Granted I would feel a bit more free on a 23 day trip than a 3 day trip, but I’ll take what I can get!

Woo Hoo! Let’s go ! Now!

Patrick

Erich
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December 5, 2011 at 11:29 p.m. (EST)

I get out to enjoy the natural world, to cast off the modern trappings of our materialistic world, to return to a way of living that is much more fundamental, to experience and think about the world our ancestors called home.

GL Mallory, famous for uttering the line, "Why do we climb? Because it's there", which was a retort to a bothersome reporter, wrote a very poetic passage.

"Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and quiet! We're not exultant; but delighted, joyful; soberly astonished...Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No...and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction...fulfilled a destiny...to struggle and to understand-never this last without the other; such is the law...We've only been obeying an old law then? Ah! but it's the law...and we understand-a little more. So ancient, wise and terrible-and yet kind we see them; with steps for children's feet."

He wrote those lines while serving in the Western Front in 1916, reflecting on a pre-war climb. How profound the contrast must have seemed, living amongst the carnage of war and remembering the purity of rock and ice on Mont Blanc.

trouthunter
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December 6, 2011 at 2:20 a.m. (EST)

Cause I like getting muddy and catchin' frogs.

BigRed
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December 6, 2011 at 4:26 a.m. (EST)

Patman said:

  • To start off with Backpacking is the perfect total fitness activity. 

Perfect?  There probably "ain't no perfect" but in terms of a whole-body workout xc skiing is right up there. Much more upper body, including abs if you do it right. And low-impact! (Well, if you don't crash).

Seth Levy (Seth)
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December 6, 2011 at 7:54 a.m. (EST)

One of the reasons i hike is that it makes the pleasures of civilization more vivid. Hot tea, a bath, cold beer - i too often take these things for granted!

Patman
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December 6, 2011 at 8:17 a.m. (EST)

BigRed,

 

yeah, I get ya...I was using "total" in the sense of mind, body, and spirit.

I actually run for more intense cardio...

 

And by the way, I've been meaning to tell you I love your new avatar. That is one awesome looking rig. Is that a banjo? 

gonzan
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December 6, 2011 at 9:03 a.m. (EST)

Patman said:

And by the way, I've been meaning to tell you I love your new avatar. That is one awesome looking rig. Is that a banjo? 

Love it. It is definitely one of the best old school photos I have ever seen :)  I admired it when you first uploaded it.

whomeworry
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December 6, 2011 at 10:11 a.m. (EST)

gonzan said:

Patman said:

And by the way, I've been meaning to tell you I love your new avatar. That is one awesome looking rig. Is that a banjo? 

Love it. It is definitely one of the best old school photos I have ever seen :)  I admired it when you first uploaded it.

Yea, the milk crate full of stuff on top is especially sweet!

Rick:

I don't practice much "proper" XC ski technique, being most of my skiing is on unbroken trail with a pack, but I get plenty of upper body exercise, nevertheless, just putting on my pack or picking myself up from under it each time I take a header.

Ed

Patman
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December 6, 2011 at 10:44 a.m. (EST)

trouthunter said:

Cause I like getting muddy and catchin' frogs.

 LOL. I just saw this....do you gig?

And if so do you eat those legs? I grew up eating them (breaded and fried of course), but don't eat much fried foods anymore. Ah, frog-leg nostalgia...

Callahan
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December 6, 2011 at 3:32 p.m. (EST)

Fresh air, exercise and great views.

trouthunter
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December 6, 2011 at 6:50 p.m. (EST)

Patman said:

trouthunter said:

Cause I like getting muddy and catchin' frogs.

 LOL. I just saw this....do you gig?

And if so do you eat those legs? I grew up eating them (breaded and fried of course), but don't eat much fried foods anymore. Ah, frog-leg nostalgia...

 Well, mostly I enjoy wading in streams and catching insect larva, crayfish, frogs, etc for the purpose of stream sampling which is a newish hobby of mine. I learned to look for certain insect larva as an aid in fly fishing and my interest has grown from there.

But to be perfectly honest, yes I will eat frog legs, crayfish, trout, and so forth on some of my trips as a supplement to my diet.

I too avoid fried foods anymore, but I reckon I've had just about anything you can eat fried at one time or another.

BigRed
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December 7, 2011 at 6:42 a.m. (EST)

Patman said:

BigRed,

And by the way, I've been meaning to tell you I love your new avatar. That is one awesome looking rig. Is that a banjo? 

 A mandolin. Trail crew in the WMNF, 1977. We had a remote, hidden camp way up the Rattle River Trail, a section of the AT that we were rebuilding over the whole summer. We used to have an informal competition to see who could carry in the most luxurious food or ridiculous item. I believe lobsters on ice made an appearance. One guy carried in a porcelain urinal and strapped it to a tree, with a hose to carry the runoff out of sight out of mind. I myself had a little extra carrying capacity one week and so brought in two watermelons, kept them hidden in the pack tent until midweek and then broke them out after we got back from work one hot afternoon. I ended up passing out quarter rounds to passing hikers on the trail, right at the top of a long steep climb. And then there beer runs... That was my work-study job for two summers, then I went on the USFS seasonal payroll for a third summer after graduating -- and before heading for NZ for another trail/hut job. Those were peak years, no question! But I never did get very good on the mandolin.

trouthunter
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December 7, 2011 at 7:16 a.m. (EST)

BigRed,

Great story and Photo!!

Thanks for sharing.

Bunion
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December 10, 2011 at 2:12 a.m. (EST)

I first went camping for the s'mores and, per'chance, to see the bugeyman.  Got older and went away cursing and fussing to some woods here and there to get away from the intolerable in "real" life, till I saw that for what it was on one mountain morning.  Then, I absolutely quit going for a long while because the intolerable had finally killed me so that I actually didn't believe in the bugeyman anymore.  Now, I'm back to the wandering stage doing short trips, don't exactly know or why, just not running any more! "Whatever-it-is" finds me, now and then, out there, when the sun hits that waterfall a certain way as you get out of the Big Anes, or when you look in a clear, mountain stream and can SEE the bugeyman!

Thanks for the question/blog; it makes me smile.

Callahan
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December 11, 2011 at 10:00 p.m. (EST)

wildlife

davidtierney
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December 29, 2011 at 1:17 a.m. (EST)

Sorry, Ed, I kind of assumed you carried an ice chest.

whomeworry
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December 29, 2011 at 5:26 p.m. (EST)

davidtierney said:

Sorry, Ed, I kind of assumed you carried an ice chest.

 I have been known to do this, but primarily for meats and such perishables, and only on occassion.  In early November or feature meal was a feast of rumaki hor d'oeuvres, roasted duck with a all the expected sides and trimmings, washed down with a fine merlot, followed up by cognac and fine chocolates.  It was a dry camp so we also had to schlep three days of water too.  Obviously some concessions must be made under these circumstances, hence the beers were kept road side for or eventual return.

 

Using my Kelty D4 pack frame to collect firewood for the weekend feast.


firewood.jpg

Ed

jmarie
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December 30, 2011 at 4:50 p.m. (EST)

I started hiking while living in Eugene OR.  Just a great way to see the mountains, the wild flowers, great group of hikers,The Obsidians. my first hike was to 5,000ft and I was hooked!  I really had no idea where I was going and it really didn't matter once I got going, that was it.  Just the freedom of the outdoors, the quiet, the scenery, pretty pedestrian for the hard core backpackers! for the day hikers on a good day, you can't beat it.  I hike the Niagara Gorge on the Canadian side, sometimes twice weekly and the American side sometimes.  The Niagara Glen is spectacular, it is a Carolinian Forest with many trails along the mighty Niagara River.  All four seasons too.  Kahtoola micro spikes in the winter and you are THERE! Come on along.. hope to meet you on he trail.

Red Rover I
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December 31, 2011 at 6:23 p.m. (EST)
  • Fresh air
  • Exercise
  • Forces me to slow down
  • Opportunity to meditate
  • Appreciation of nature
  • Enhances spirituality
  • Nature is a mirror to examine my heart and soul
second gear
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January 1, 2012 at 12:48 a.m. (EST)

I get dirty on the outside so I can get clean on the inside.

Seth Levy (Seth)
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January 2, 2012 at 9:20 a.m. (EST)

This New Year - I saw the pale yellow winter sun rise up behind ice-covered birches.  I walked over snow and frozen moss and smiled.  That's why I hike.

andrew f. (leadbelly2550)
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January 3, 2012 at 3:07 p.m. (EST)

a lot of reasons that have varied over time.

i started hiking because my dad loved it.  he's still around, but back/neck issues have made hiking kind of painful for him. 

companionship.  i really enjoy hiking/climbing and overnighting with friends and family.  maybe it's the fact you burned lactic acid half the afternoon, or perhaps it's the absence of modern entertainment and communication, but hikes and trips have always been a great bonding experience for me - a time to talk and get to know people in ways that modern life rarely allows.  the same goes with my own immediate family.  i don't force hiking on my kids so they will enjoy it when they go.  yet we go out with enough regularity that they like it and are starting to understand how to handle themselves on the trails. 

physical and mental health.  i used to run for the most part to get this.  as frayed cartilage and other assorted physical issues made running more of a chore, walking and hiking became a staple, along with other lower-impact things like nordic skiing, cycling, swimming.  hiking, for me, may be the most enjoyable combination of getting out, challenging myself physically, enjoying where i am, and clearing my head. 

unplugging.  part of the mental health, but more.  in addition to not having the world intrude, i like that being outside on a trail means observing what is around you - what is the weather going to do? is that slope loaded up enough and in condition to let go and bury you? how is the wind/fog/rain, or whatever, going to affect your day out? is it a crampon day or not.....as opposed to pulling the weather up on your ipad 2.  you eat what you bring, not what's available a quick drive to the 7-11.  in a society where convenience is king, getting out and hiking makes life a whole lot more interesting. 

uniqueness.  if you make the time to go places you don't normally go, at times you wouldn't normally be out, you can see and experience some pretty amazing things.  i won't bore you with my highlights, we all have them. 

Drake
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March 31, 2012 at 11:16 p.m. (EDT)

"I get dirty on the outside so I can get clean on the inside."

 

That comment, second gear, is just outstanding.  One sentence, 14 words long and you've said it all.

Excellant.

Drake

 

Callahan
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April 1, 2012 at 2:30 p.m. (EDT)

to get away

marco99
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April 22, 2012 at 1:01 p.m. (EDT)

I love the feeling of self-sufficiency (especially on thru-hikes).  Just me and my boots and we're making it happen.  We have so little control over so many things in our lives, that to have a natural, beautiful, healthy, adventurous activity that also satisfies the need to control one's own fate is just awesome.

davidtierney
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April 22, 2012 at 3:56 p.m. (EDT)

I read the following recently and remembered this thread, so had to add it.

"Wilderness makes you smarter.  And the longer you're out there (up to a point), the smarter you'll get.  Recent studies have already linked wilderness exposure with stress reduction and overall happiness."  (Backpacker Magazine, May 2012, p. 74)

Perhaps it sounds a little, "no s%!t, sherlock," but most folks would be surprised at just how often our notions about the world are flat out wrong.  So, its nice when science backs us up.

Callahan
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April 23, 2012 at 1:12 p.m. (EDT)

get out of built up suburbia

GaryPalmer
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April 30, 2012 at 7:19 p.m. (EDT)

 

I hike, therefore I am...

trouthunter
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April 30, 2012 at 10:45 p.m. (EDT)

Drake said:

"I get dirty on the outside so I can get clean on the inside."

 

That comment, second gear, is just outstanding.  One sentence, 14 words long and you've said it all.

Excellant.

Drake

 

 I agree!

I enjoy being in the outdoors so I can relax, think, and learn.

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