“And why? Why do you hike?” That’s what people ask me after they heard me out about where I started, where I’m heading to, how many kilometres a day and how heavy my backpack is. Why I hike? “Why not?” Yeah, why not? If I don’t like it any more, I can stop. So, I hike because I want to. Because I like it. But is that really the answer?
Why do I híke? Why am I hiking hére? And why do I hike the way I do? What moves me? The answer slowly forms itself. Gets shape. And keeps on forming. A few months ago, I wrote a blog “I hike because I can“. But there are many reasons. Just because I can or because I like it is not the complete answer.
When it comes to decision-making, I often follow my feelings. Hiking feels good. It goes slow and I like that. It’s the most natural way of moving around. Not only that, but it slows down all the noise, and it is a tool to protect myself. Protect myself for the racing and running. Often I want to be faster. I get impatient, frustrated that it takes so long. Everything. Because I hike, I simply can’t go any faster. Accepting that is the only thing I can do. That gives peace.
My FiveFingers helping me with this. Take it a step further. Because I wear FiveFingers, my feet can give me feedback. They’re far away from my mind, they don’t mind my mind. They tell me the honest truth. Wearing Vibram FiveFingers increases the fun, because I literally feel everything, but they also tell me when it’s enough. When it’s time to take a break or call it a day.
Change of plans
From one day to another, I decided to start hiking in the Netherlands. My original plan was to spend a year in the Balkans. I wanted to go back to Bosnia and Herzegovina and work in a mountain hut, to Zagreb to follow a language course. I wanted to hike the green and the blue Via Dinarica trails and I wanted to write articles, blogs, a book… Then I realized that all of this was perhaps a little too much.
More importantly, I realized that all of this doesn’t have to be done now, in this year. There’s no reason to rush. And I certainly didn’t want to rush myself into something new and loose what it’s been all about in the first place. Slowing down. Following your dreams is something different from chasing them. Chasing happiness and get back exhausted, disappointed. The Balkans are still fascinating to me and I still want to spend more time there, but I kind of got the feeling that I neglected my own roots.
The Netherlands versus the Balkans
I did travel a lot in the Netherlands, biking, hiking, city trips, micro adventures, short weekend trips with friends and so on. I can proudly say that the Netherlands are beautiful. Honestly, I love my country and all of its typical Dutchness.
Nevertheless, I also have (or had) this image of the Netherlands (and the rest of Western Europe) that it’s a bit cold, stiff, not very hospitable. That it is “one for himself”, an individualistic society. A society where it’s all about performing, achieving. About reaching certain (life)goals. A society where you can live a damn good life, as long as you’re running along in the (same) race. That’s how this “West versus the Balkans” concept started to control me. With of course the Balkans on the “good” side.
Suddenly a fear took over. I was afraid that I idealized the Balkans. Life, the people, nature, culture. Perhaps I made it all a bit more romantic, more beautiful. There are many differences for sure. And I still feel this attraction, but if that feeling is really as strong as I believe it is, it will stay. Also, if I arrive a few months later. I decided to look at it differently. Instead of searching for the things I miss in the Netherlands, I try to take the things I found elsewhere with me.
It’s the attitude
I would trek through the West the way I did last summer in the Balkans. No tight planning, plenty of time to hike my own pace, my own hike through nature and make contact with the people I meet along the way. Just see what or who crosses my path. Yes, seize the day. Let it happen. Etc. Simply said, this resulted in some sort of hospitality research. How hospitable are the Netherlands? But also, how is this contact with total strangers? I do have many prejudices, but what if I could let go of them? What would happen if I could explore my own country with the same curiosity I have when I’m trekking around in the Balkans? This literally opened many many doors.
This wasn’t just in the Netherlands. Also in Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy I was overwhelmed by all the bizarre, beautiful and meaningful encounters. People invited me in, told me their story, shared food, bought me a coffee or simply enjoyed spending time together. I tend to believe that giving and sharing is something that we, human beings, do naturally. It’s in us. It gives us pleasure and leads to connectedness. Happiness.
Why I hike
I have to admit that I still sometimes feel a bit awkward by all the generosity. Somehow it feels like I should give something in return. Over and over again, I have to remind myself that being there, being present, sit, listen, share and spend time together is much more important than all the other stuff I could give. I allow them to give and I let them be part of my journey. I feel so unbelievably thankful and grateful – actually, I don’t know the difference – that no money or words could ever be able to express what I feel. The fact that I experienced this in the Netherlands just like I did in the Balkans means a lot to me. And it taught me something new.
It’s not the surrounding or destination, but rather your own attitude that leads to connectedness. Because of this, I no longer feel like I’m walking away. I no longer feel like I’m searching for something some place else than in myself. And that means that whatever it is we are searching for, is already here. (#cliché)
I’ve always said that the hiking is not a goal, but more like a tool. A way of living. This journey, it’s not a break or a sabbatical. It’s how I live my life. It ís my life. A slow and wonderful life.
Deep down I know I don’t want to go back home. I know that this is how I feel best. How I feel happiest. The “how’s”, “yeah-buts…” and “what if’s…” are fears for the future. In fact, those are the fears that might hold me back. Fears that make me unhappy. I acknowledge them, face them and try to work my way out of them. Because really, what is the worst thing that can happen?