I just got back from spending two days on the harder half of the Juan de Fuca trail (pictures to follow), and what an adventure! My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my shoulders hurt, even my eyes are a little sore, clearly I had a good time.
About 10km in I started thinking about how doing this trip compared to picking mushrooms. Strange how every time I'm hiking the first thing I think about is mushrooms. Anyways - I was trying to compare the two activities - hiking in a straight line vs hiking while hunting for something, and I came up with the following contrasts.
One: they're both tough. While we were hiking I argued that picking mushrooms was harder, but in reality, they're both tough. The terrain we were hiking was all up and down (same picking mushrooms) and we were carrying packs (lighter than when I'm picking mushrooms) but generally I stash my pack and run areas up and down with a lighter bucket. Hunting I'm off trails, over and under logs, but then I don't have to walk through mud. I do however have to push my way through trees. If I'm stuck out after dark while hiking I just keep following the trail, but if I'm picking mushrooms I have to find my way with no trail in the dark. Looking at this hike in particular, it's almost always a lot colder outside while I'm hunting mushrooms - but then I'm a lot warmer when I'm sleeping at home! Definitely a sleeping bag is something I need to take with me next time (my own was in Alberta). After thinking it all through though, I have to go with hunting mushrooms. Don't get me wrong, I loved the hike - it was great time with friends, and I do enjoy pushing myself to the max, but it was different some how...
After looking at all these differences, I really just came up with one difference that actually matters to me, and that is my frame of mind while doing each one. While I'm walking a ridge hunting mushrooms, I'm constantly looking left, right, ahead, behind, searching for spots of white, needle-beds, bumps in the moss that weren't there before or that look like they might be young. I'm looking for signs that someone else was in my patch, I'm watching for animals, listening for things that don't sound right (especially while I'm alone!) or don't look right. I'm scouting, keeping track of the area I've covered, deciding on the best route to cover all of the territory without running out of energy. When I'm hiking a trail, it feels like all I'm thinking about is putting one foot in front of the other.
Not that I'm not thinking about other things, but it's not the same. I look at a hillside while hiking, I'm not looking for anything in particular. Sure I try to "appreciate" it for it's natural beauty, but my mind flashes over it without really registering anything. I see a beach, sure it's beautiful, but I just don't interact with the environment in the same way as I do when I'm there with a purpose.
I'm sure with time I could learn to appreciate just walking, and to some extent I do, and perhaps if I had never done either before I might enjoy (or hate) both picking mushrooms and hiking equally... but for that to be the case I would have to find a reason for me to study the location with the same intensity I use when hiking through a patch, and so far I can't think of what that might be.
And, I think that this train of thought might apply to other aspects of my life as well. So there's some more food for thought.