The gravel crunches underneath the wheels as your car glides into a parking spot. You throw the car into park and scramble out the driver side door, taking a deep breath of fresh air. As you begin pulling gear out of your trunk, you turn and take in the surrounding landscape. Suddenly, something stirs deep inside of you. A smile spreads across your face as you shoulder your pack, ready for the day’s adventure.
In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Explore, we consider the idea of hinterland and pose the question: Where is your hinterland?
When I was in second grade, my family moved into a new house. I wasn’t necessarily excited about a new room, or new kids to play with, or even about the house itself. I was excited about the woods. The neighborhood was newer and the surrounding landscape was largely undeveloped. There were acres of forest, creeks, ponds and meadows. It was wild and I loved it. The woods seemed to separate me from the rest of reality, giving the forest a mythical element. As a knobby-kneed 8-year-old, these woods were my hinterland.
Hinterland is a German word, “hinter” meaning behind and “land” meaning, well, land. Literally, the word translates to “the land behind”. Merriam Webster takes this a step further and defines hinterland as “an area lying beyond what is visible or known”. The backcountry. The great outdoors. The wild.
The woods behind my boyhood home are a far cry from being considered backcountry. In the fall, when all the trees had dropped their leaves, my mom could see me from our porch, stripping away the remoteness that my young mind craved. My woods were very visible and very known. Not a place that anyone would call wild.
Today, my rural Kentucky woods are a long way away. My “new backyard” is the Cascade Range and the Enchantments. Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Range sit silently on the horizon, beckoning me to come for a visit. Places like Smith Rock, the Sawtooths and Glacier National Park are just a few hours away. However, despite their beauty and ruggedness, these places are far from being unknown.
Detailed maps, manicured trails, and cell phone reception quickly dispel the idea of being in a remote and wild place. During some climbs, I can easily see the highway, with cars carefully cruising along at 70 miles an hour, shattering that “deep in the mountains” feeling. Perhaps these places aren’t as wild and unknown as we think.
Hitchhiking across America in Kerouac-esque style is no longer culturally accepted. Sir Edmund Hilary has already touched the top of the world and arctic explorers have touched both the North and South poles. Every corner of the globe has been visited, photographed, mapped, and recorded. The age of exploration and westward expansion are long gone, but the desire to wander and explore is alive and well.
So, where can we find this mythical hinterland?
I think hinterland is a state of mind, not a place, achieved when we go to the land behind. It’s a setting where our minds become unfettered and something stirs deep in our soul.
Our brain is constantly preoccupied with work projects and social events. The forest, beaches, and mountains that we love so much are just wood, water, sand and stone. The magic happens when these two entities meet. When this encounter transpires, we find ourselves in the hinterland. The mountain becomes more than a hunk of rock. Our mind is now so much more than a muscle used for processing sensory data or organizing our lives.
I wish I could articulate this feeling of hinterland in a few succinct sentences, but I expect that many of you already know the exact experience that I am writing about. I also expect that many of you (like me) have trouble summarizing this feeling.
The one thing I do know is that I can’t get enough of it. I crave the hinterland.
Sometimes the hinterland looks like a 14-hour alpine push deep in the hills. Other times, it’s a day hike off the old country highway. Taking a half day off work to go surf the local break. Maybe it’s an afternoon at the park downtown. It can even be a relaxing morning, in your home, with that book that sparks those wild feelings inside of you.
Hinterland can deliver necessary relief or bring welcome discomfort. It motivates some to run and be free, while others find rest and rejuvenation. Hinterland can bring strangers together while providing solitude for soul searchers. It issues a challenge for some and a vacation for others.
When I start thinking about why I love the outdoors, at an elemental level, I find that it’s not the fresh air or spectacular views. It’s not hobbies or the friends. It’s being free, unfettered, and singularly focused. The feeling of being connected and understood. It’s quiet moments. Those wild spaces that make you feel small and take the air right out of your lungs. It’s the wild and unknown feeling in my soul.
It’s the place where you feel beyond the visible and known. It’s hinterland.
Centuries ago, hinterland was used to refer to the spaces outside of a port or a city. I like to think the word even had a somewhat negative connotation since that space was uncivilized and wild. People back then avoided the hinterlands.
Now, these are places that we run to.
Not necessarily because we are running away from civilization or our routine, but because we found a place and a feeling that we love.
So, for 2017, where will you run?
Will you begin training for that unclimbed face deep in the mountains? Go trail running once a week in the woods down the street? Learn to fly fish? Volunteer for an environmental fundraiser or trail day? Take that deep backcountry ski trip? Tune up your bike and start commuting? Travel to a different country? Complete your first marathon? Hike the Continental Divide Trail?
We want to know.
Let’s get stoked as a community and plan for this year’s adventures. We love making gear for your adventures and we want to hear about your goals and dreams. Share your personal “hinterland” plans for 2017 in the comments below or share your hinterlands story with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by using #inmyhinterland. We can’t wait to hear your stories.
See you out there!