Travel used to have a purpose – to find trading partners, to cure disease, to scout out fertile land to homestead on. According to my favorite modern philosopher, it still should. Travel should be about more than gaining social media followers and checking items off a clichéd bucket list. It should feed your soul and help you grow as a person. Living in India for five months when I was 21 years old certainly changed my entire being in a number of ways and while I have taken some trips since then that were purely for fun, when I travel internationally, I usually seek out places that offer novel experiences I believe I can learn from.
The philosophy should apply to simple domestic weekend trips as much as it does to big international ones. Fortunately, Colorado offers endless opportunity to gain perspective and appreciation. The benefits of spending time in nature are well documented, but I don’t need a journalist or scientist to tell me that pushing my body toward accomplishment in a wild space, like summitting one of Colorado’s 58 14ers, is therapeutic and can change you.
You notice the world. Without cell phone coverage to distract you and with the struggle to breathe limiting conversation, you’re left with observation. You see beautiful new plants, the greenest trees reaching up to the bluest sky, unique rock and dirt formations. You realize how the streams are shaping the earth. At the summit, you see lower mountains, stretching on for miles and miles beyond your perch. You become beautifully small and insignificant against the gigantism of nature, a feeling almost impossible to obtain in a city where everything exists because of humans and feels totally under our control.
The element of danger—one misstep on a mountainside that could send you plummeting 1,000 feet or a gathering thunderstorm that could be upon you in moments as you stand vertically exposed well above treeline, a perfect lightning target—trains your brain to concentrate differently, to focus on elements that aren’t part of your normal daily thinking processes. Gone are the petty politics at work, the family drama, the stupid fight you had with a friend, the chores waiting at home. None of that exists for a while.
You bond with friends in new and meaningful ways that can’t happen when you are sitting around on a patio drinking mojitos. You feel a new sense of excitement together, you marvel at amazing views together, you support each other as your strength starts flagging, and you celebrate how powerful your bodies are.
The pain you experience—gasping for breath, pounding heart, random bouts of dizziness, toes banging against the front your boots on the way down and loosening toenails, blisters forming on the balls of your feet, legs shaking from hours of trying to prevent yourself from sliding down loose rock, back aching from the weight of all the water in your pack and the extra layers of clothing for the high wind and chilly summit, chapped lips and numbed fingers—makes you focus completely on your physical being. While this reality of this kind of hike may not sound appealing, it puts you in touch with yourself and what you are capable of. It makes you feel stronger even as you suffer. It makes you want to achieve more and more.
Your creature comforts mean so much. A celebratory beer at 14,000 feet is the best beer you will ever drink. The shower when you return home is converted from a basic part of your morning routine to the most luxurious experience of your lifetime as you soap away eight hours of sweat and grime. Your bed that night is better than a bed at the world’s most exclusive hotel with the finest, softest sheets and pillows money can buy. Everything ordinary fills you with new and wonderful sensations.
Hiking in Colorado leaves me renewed and in love with the planet and so happy to be alive, and for that, a weekend in the mountains is some of the most purposeful and essential travel I can do.