Opinion — Escapism: Wandering through the woods


Andie Balenger/NW

WANDERLUST — A breathtaking view to be enjoyed after a long hike on the Ice Lake Basin trail in Silverton, Colorado. Methods for alleviating stress can come in a variety of forms, like athletics, crafting and hiking.

Andie Balenger, Opinion Editor

We all have our emotional outlets. For some, it is binge-watching a television series and playing video games, while others may enjoy cooking or refurbishing vintage items. The list of ways to alleviate stress is quite literally endless — everyone is going to have a hobby that is uniquely tailored to their idea of escape. For the longest time, I found an escape in organized sports.

I was an athlete growing up. If you name a game, like softball, basketball, tennis or track, I was more than likely signed up for some training camp with a bunch of other kids my age. As a child, I never complained as my parents loaded up all of my gear and shipped me off to an athletic event. I was eager to meet people like me who loved to compete and have fun while doing so.

However, something changed as I became a teenager. I had been playing travel ball for several years at that point. I was spending my summer vacations competing in tournaments throughout the Midwest region, yet the tone of the experience had suddenly shifted. Rather than there being some separation between the competition and a relationship with my teammates, the two began to meld together. Conversations shifted from where we would all hang out after a game to whether a college coach would be coming to watch us play. 

The fun had seemingly evaporated. From that point forward, athletics had become my least favorite stressor. 

Maybe it was the pressure I had put on myself to succeed, coupled with my competitive nature, that caused the immense joy I used to garner from playing sports to slowly disseminate. Regardless, I was suddenly in need of a new outlet for the stress that I took on during high school athletics. I needed a hobby that still allowed me to be active but in a more peaceful manner.

Then one day my mom asked me if I wanted to go for a hike. 

“A hike? How boring,” I thought to myself after she posed the question. The thought of silently walking through the woods for fun seemed like a waste of time to me. Why spend time wandering around when I could be spending that time putting reps in at the gym or studying for an exam? But I took her up on the offer, so we hopped in the car and ventured up to the Keweenaw Peninsula. 

The leaves had just hit their peak, and we set out on a five-mile hike to the top of a mountain. Despite the challenging trudge up to our destination, I vividly recall never feeling more at peace than when we reached the top. It was like I had finally gained control over my senses, appreciating the warmth of the sun on my face as I tuned in to the rustling of autumn leaves in the towering oak trees. At last, I had found an activity where I would not become overstimulated, stressed and subsequently worn out. 

My desire to wander through the woods has only grown since that first hike in 2017.

When vacation time now presents itself to me, I am planning it around hiking. After choosing five to seven trails within a designated region, the vehicle gets packed with all of the camping essentials — including a cribbage board — and my mother and I hit the road. Spending most of our time in Colorado, staking out at the foot of a mountain, our chosen hikes will lead us on an uphill climb for miles at a time. Despite the numerous stops for water, trail mix or a Jolly Rancher, the payoffs for all of the hikes have been well worth the effort.

For example, after a few days spent in Silverton, Colorado, we decided to explore the Ice Lake Basin trail. Boasting an 8.3-mile-long trail with nearly 3,000 ft. in elevation gain, it is considered a “hard” endeavor, and I knew we were in for a treat. We set out on the trail just before 6 a.m., hoping to get above the tree line before the afternoon hours. After several hours spent tripping over rocks and roots, the weight of my legs slowly becoming harder to lift, I eventually stumbled into a vast clearing. There, I found the brightest of blue lakes. 

At this point of the hike, I just stopped and stared. It was hard to take in every aspect of the panoramic view that stood in front of me. It seemed too perfect to be real. The sky above, which was painted with the outline of towering, snow-capped mountains, looked as if it had been plucked directly from a Bob Ross painting. At the time, the only rational conclusion to such an awe-striking view was that I was dreaming. 

More realistically, my dreamlike state was due to a severe lack of oxygen after climbing over 2,000 ft., with the lake resting at roughly 10,000 ft. above sea level. 

Whatever the case, nothing will ever replace the feeling of discovering some secret gem, like the Ice Lake Basin, hiding in the middle of the woods. That indescribable feeling, partnered with the peaceful ascent and descent of every hike, is something that I will continue to chase for the rest of my life. It makes me wonder what the great outdoors has left to offer me and others out hitting the trails.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is a staff column, written by an employee of the North Wind. As such, it expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the North Wind Editorial Board.