Perceptions are altitude dependent

There is a point on every trail when I ask myself why on earth I keep going out on hikes. Usually, it happens when sweat beads into my eyes and along my jaw line.  It’s when my knee and/or ankles hurt, and I’m looking uphill thinking, “This totally sucks.”

Hiking is hard.

But it’s also awesome.

Yesterday, at the summit of Mt Hunger, I ate a half-mooshed banana and set about orienting my compass and myself. See, I have a terrible sense of direction. I have only a rudimentary sense of where points are in relationship to one another, and I navigate best by associating locations with landmarks. Mountains make awfully good landmarks.

In video games, there’s an effect called the Fog of War. The effect prevents you from seeing places on the playable map that you haven’t yet explored. Assassin’s Creed does a particularly good job of dealing with the Fog; the best way to reveal sections of the map is to climb a tall building and have a look around.

View of Stowe from Mt Hunger
That’s Stowe in the distance.

Mt Mansfield to the northwest. The Presidentials to the east. Camel’s Hump, southwest. Somewhere to the hazy, foggy west, Lake Champlain.

One of my favorite quotes is from Sally Shivan’s essay “Airborne.”

Once again, perceptions can be altitude dependent.

It’s true. From the top of a mountain, faced with the panoramic view of humanity nestled in the folds of nature, it’s impossible to not experience a subtle shift in point of view. From up there, I placed the roads and towns and mountains in my life in context. There is home. There is Stowe. I am here. This is about when I forget that hiking sucks and remember that it’s awesome.

Then, I hopped, skipped, and jogged my way back down the mountain. At one point I tripped and fell. A few minutes later, I rinsed my bleeding knee in the mountain spring. It seems I’ll never learn to not run down mountains, just as I’ll never learn to not hike up them.

How do your perceptions shift when you’re in your sport? Tell me in the comments!


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