I’ve always loved walking. There’s something human about it. We all strive to walk from the earliest times, going from crawlers to toddlers to habitual walkers who forget we ever had to learn. Even on a bigger, species level, something drove us to walk. Over many thousands of years we evolved from the lumbering, knuckle-walking ape into the upright bi-ped we are today. No other mammal on earth walks quite like we do: upright, on two limbs, all of the time. Walking defines something essential of who we are as humans; and it shapes the way we interact with and experience the world around us. Everything unfolds gradually, at its natural pace, when we walk and we remain in contact with the land; close enough to notice all its rich detail – from a flower to animal tracks – that we’d miss moving any other way.
Wherever I am, I like to walk. Even if it takes a long time from A to B, it never feels like time wasted; not like sitting on a bus, detached from the outside, twiddling my thumbs would. Walking makes my mind work; it makes me think; it makes me feel immersed in the world, not separated from it.
To me, there’s no better place to walk than the wilderness. Even if I walk in a city, I try to do it so I feel natural things under my feet: mud, grass, or tree roots, just so I can feel something of the wilderness again. Being in the wilderness makes me feel alive; and it gives me a sense of inner peace I don’t find anywhere else.
If I spend too long in cities, or suburbia, or wherever, I begin to feel disjointed: out of place and pondering existential questions about the meaning of things. Away in the mountains, walking the wilderness, something begins to happen in me. Something stirs; old senses and instincts start to flicker; gradually, something that feels long lost and ancient comes back to me, like a flame.
Goals that seem important in the city – status, promotions, possessions etc – go away. Life suddenly gets simple; everything becomes lucid again; goals are re-calibrated from ones that seem alien and imposed from outside to a single objective that feels fulfilling in every way: survival.
As much as I walk the mountains for the views; for the fun, the adventure and sense of achievement – all of which I do – I do it because it gives me the strongest sense of purpose I know. Because it makes the world simple.
Also because I feel I discover something essential about where I came from. The wilderness is the place to which our senses became attuned over hundreds of thousands of years. And when I go back I feel like something of those – however rusty and imperfect – comes back. And moreover, that through them, I understand something of where we came from.
Whenever I leave my flat, packing my bags, turning off the lights and saying my goodbyes, it feels like I’m leaving home. In another way though, as the bus pulls away and I leave the manic, thumping streets of downtown Cairo; as the plains of the Sinai draw into view through the bus window and its jagged peaks appear, high and faraway, under the desert sky, I don’t feel like I’m leaving home at all. Really, I feel like I’m going back to the greatest home of all. The one that really made us who and what we are. The wilderness.