By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
We filled our canteens from the frost-proof spigot by the pavilion and set out from the Natchez Trace Visitors Center on a round-trip hike to the Chickasaw Village.
In Adult Miles this was and remains a nice, easy morning stroll, but in Kid Miles it was something on the order of a marathon. Along the way, though, we discovered an important part of what time on the trail really means.
From the dirt courtyard, packed hard by foot traffic under the summer sun, the Scouts of Troop 80 shuffled in dusty single file across the pavement and into the cool of the trees. The path led south on a downhill slope. We chattered and joked for a while, then, one by one, in a process not unlike members of a large group falling individually asleep, dropped into our singular traveling rhythms.
Striding to independent cadences and strung out along the trail, our feet went on cruise control and our minds disengaged from the world. A natural, liberating elixir self applied, hiking’s mental tonic is a curious phenomenon when discovered as a child, but a valuable tool to have and one that continues to prove its worth ever greater for the rest of our lives. Not so much anesthesia as free rein for adrenaline daydreams, a walk that begins where the pavement ends is an ideal method of reeling the imponderable back into the here and now.
Worries live in the crowded files of cluttered minds as attempts to force order onto our self-made chaos, but a trail with enough grade to require some effort and focus our attention on simply breathing is a ready-made reset button. Our worries suffocate us as we sit in air-conditioned comfort, but on hillsides among the elements we breathe free.
I’ve always been amazed how swiftly a cross country walk causes the mental landscape to change, and how easily. Today, it’s no trouble at all for me to set off on foot across unfamiliar territory and, in what seems like mere moments, suddenly realize I have no idea how far I’ve come or which way is “back,” creating the further mental exercise of replacing any number of theoretical concerns with a single real one, but skill of this quality takes many years to perfect and I don’t recommend it be undertaken lightly.
Fortunately, confined to trails that are committed to maps, hiking’s disengagement from the immediate is safely free for the taking.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point