The first time I went to Muir Woods, the forest floor was flooded with people. It was like midday at Disneyland, only with Douglas Firs and Coastal Redwoods instead of Winnie the Pooh and pals.
I was discouraged. This was not the verdant vibe I was looking for.
I had a friend with me who’d been to Muir several times before. Everything was going to be ok, he said. Let’s walk along the path, and when it forks, we’ll take the one going up. Just three forks (give or take), that’s all we need, he said. Which seemed bonkers to me, but we were already there so…
After the first fork, we found ourselves in the middle of a modest crowd. There was chatter on the trail for sure. Happy families. A group of thirty-somethings. But nothing like the mob we’d left behind. What really surprised me was the sound. Or the lack of sound. The tree cover served as baffles, already muffling much of the noise from below.
After the second fork, we ran into a few hikers. Hardier folks than me and my pal. People with equipment. What really surprised me was the sound. Or the lack of sound. The tree cover served as baffles, already muffling much of the noise from below.
One more fork, one more choice to push back a little against gravity, and as promised, we were all alone. Just us, a little chirping, some rustling branches, and the crunch of our feet on the path. We’d been walking for perhaps twenty minutes now and the crowd had just disappeared. I never forgot it. And I learned a simple lesson that day that I try to keep in mind.
There are those moments when you have a choice, when you can opt for the easy way or the arduous way, the stroll or the incline. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. But it’s remarkable how just by choosing to sweat one, two, perhaps three times, you can find yourself in rare air, listening to the sound of your feet on an open path.