When leaving the beaten path, you have to be particularly present.
The other day I was out alone on an early morning Sunday. My friend Theresa, with whom I usually go hiking, was on a business trip. As a precaution, I downloaded an app and studied the map. The little city hike that I had chosen was also near the university hospital. The hospital has quite a large and well-developed property on a hill overgrown with eucalyptus trees.
I once discovered this urban jungle quite by accident during one of Victor’s numerous operations, when I couldn’t stand it any longer in the waiting room, left the building and stumbled aimlessly and half-blind with worry along the street. I turned a corner and suddenly there was a smell of eucalyptus. I entered a kind of urban jungle. After a few steps, I was far away. The city, the clinic, even my worries seemed far away.
This time I want to enter the forest from the other side, where the romantically named Feenweg begins, which leads in a gentle loop around the Sutro hill. It is still early and the city is shrouded in thick summer fog. The news is on the radio. Afghanistan, Haiti, Climate Report, Delta and Lambda. I could go home again, I think. And to pull the covers over my ears. Or stop at my favorite bakery and stock up on comfort pastries.
I have to be very familiar with the area around the university clinic. Nevertheless, I am unable to find the entrance to the park that I suspect in the fog. Finally I stop in a residential area, check my app again and start walking. Soon I have reached the wooded hill, but it is surrounded by a fence. It is dripping from the trees, one half of the street is glistening wet with rain, while the other remains dry. Because it is not rain, but the famous “heavy fog”, the heavy fog that has accumulated over night and is now dripping from the leaves. While watching this phenomenon and looking for the path at the same time, I forget the world situation, the news, even the fact that I haven’t even had a coffee this morning. I’m here. I’m awake.
And I remember a study I read recently that recommends going off the beaten track, changing the familiar sequence of exercises, deviating from the routine. Because you have to be careful where you step. Because you have to be present. Obviously, this has not only metaphorical but also very specific health benefits. At some point I give up and put the mobile phone with the app in my pocket, which turns out to be just as deceptive as my own sense of direction. Instead, I follow my mother’s advice and just go in the opposite direction.
In fact, I then find a hiking trail, not the one I was looking for, but it is a path. It’s steep and muddy, I have to be careful where I step. The fog is thick, the trees are tall, the light is dim. It smells of eucalyptus and wet earth. The highway rushes in the distance. Mountain bikers and joggers overtake me and I envy them for their safety for a moment. You know your way around here. This is their territory. The unknown paths are not always easy to go. But they are worth the effort. And besides, they’re the only ones I can find.