There is a difference between hiking and walking and it has nothing to do with shoes. Hiking is canoeing a river, walking is paddling a lake. Hiking is boarding a flight, walking is hopping a train. Hiking is reading the damn book for your book club, walking is flipping through old diaries.
There are action words associated with each. "Stride" has to do with hiking, while "amble" is for walks. "Depart?" Hikes. "Venture?" Walks. It has little to do with rigor and everything to do with stance. You can hike from here to the post office; you can walk to Khartoum. The difference lies in the idea—though not necessarily the actuality—of a destination.
When we hike, we believe we are going somewhere, and along a delineated path. We place great faith in the minutes and hours that divide up the celestially patterned events we call days. There is an estimated time of arrival.
When we walk, our legs carry us over the face of the earth, but we exist in an arbitrary space with its own time. We ring a mental bell and the end of the walk is signaled by its last reverberation.
My husband returned from a trip. It was to have several facets, mostly work, but also play, a reunion with old friends in Denver, a number of hotels, and one rental car. None of those things occurred, because god intervened with 23 inches of snow at the Denver airport, and my husband got stuck in Salt Lake. He was gone roughly four hours: one hour in flight, two hours fuming at an airport, one hour in return flight home, and that was that. The trip didn't happen because my husband, who gets nervous with air travel, thought the only option was to hike, when, in fact, he might as well have been out walking.
Here's what "out walking" would have meant: a night in the Peery Hotel in Salt Lake City, two books read, a reunion with different old friends, and then a belated segue back into the original trip, the one that was a hike, only now shorter.
To me, this was an opportunity missed. But he was on the clock and there was work to be done. Off he marched, in a forward direction.
I went for a walk after his return. I mused on our differences. I lectured in my head on a topic I've made up called pedestrian existentialism. We are surrounded by wilderness, is the gist. Certainty is an illusion. What seems apparent is, in fact, air. Itineraries get trashed, trails disappear.
Hiking carries expectations because it has a public aspect—Here I am hiking!—while walking is private. Locale and mode of transport is beside the point. I've traversed the same expanse of highway—from my hometown of Cut Bank to Fort Peck—both hiking and walking.
On the first trip I was hurrying. I was 19. I was to be the piano player at the Fort Peck Summer Theatre, a big job for me at the time, and our first rehearsal was that night. I drove for hours down the straight line of Highway 2, the high engine whine (my car would only go in third gear) matching the anxiety in my heart.
On the repeat trip, 30 years later, I turned into every little town along the way, reaching back past that brief theater job to all the long summers of my childhood, a blur of meadowlarks and vacant lots. I parked the car, got out, and just batted around in the wind, remembering.
In the end, it is not a moral question. One thing leads to another. And sometimes, I will concede, you need to hike before you walk.
I went on a hike with my son. We hiked into Sperry Chalet from the east side, and then up to Sperry Glacier, and then down to Lake McDonald. (Yes, we did have dinner and an overnight at the chalet, but that distracts from the story.) I was so tired near the trip's end I was ready to puke. But I wanted to stay close to him and keep up the pace. He was going to college soon, and our relationship would be relegated to text messaging and Facebook, and while he might come home again, and even live at home, he would never live at home in the same way he had before leaving.
But I didn't want to seem vulnerable or clingy or evoke the ravages of age and passage of time or go off on uncertainty or illusion. Who needs that when trying to sign up for classes? So I maintained a steady gait. I managed this by looking no further than five feet in front of me, the viewable space within the brim of my cap, pretending that the end of the trail was just beyond it. I submitted to the trip and let the idea of a destination pull me.
I finished the hike, and, sure enough, a few weeks later, my son walked away.