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Trail Tales

Lessons From The Trail

Back to Trail Tales

As an outdoors writer and guidebook author, former backcountry ranger, former mountain guide, and dedicated adventurer, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the trail. More than 25,000 miles. Add running to the mix, and my total miles on trail skyrockets. I’ve hiked on trails from Nova Scotia to Florida, from Alaska to Argentina, and in Europe and Asia, too. I’ve seen a lot of spectacular natural places. And I’ve learned a lot along the way—about nature, humanity, and myself. Here, in no specific order, are some of those lessons:

It is the trail less taken that often rewards me the greatest. I cherish solitude, but welcome company when deep in the backcountry. I don’t mind sharing the trail with hundreds who walk softly, but shudder at the thought of sharing it with one clod.

All images: Craig Romano

I’ve hiked in the Yukon, Patagonia, the Andes and Pyrenees; yet some of the most stunning scenery is right in my backyard in Northwestern Washington. There is beauty everywhere in the natural world; I’ve seen it in Mississippi swamps and along the AT in New Jersey.

In cities I see chaos; in nature I see order. The most ecologically diverse places aren’t usually the most visually stunning. Ecosystems are fragile, yet nature can be resilient.

Hiking is a great stress release, even when I’m facing stressful deadlines writing about hiking. Nature heals, but can also be cruel.


I have felt spiritual redemption in the Olympic Mountains. And I have faced my mortality in a wildfire in the Cascades and during an electrical storm atop Mount Shasta.

I’ve encountered grizzlies and unleashed aggressive dogs on the trail—the latter concern me more.

I can always pack lighter, but choose comfort and preparedness over streamlining.

Not all backcountry water sources need to be filtered, but all it takes is one miscalculation to contract giardia.

I have encountered motorcyclists who cherish the land, and hikers who couldn’t care less. Supporters of parks and wild places come from all political backgrounds and walks of life—opponents too.


Funding for our parks and trails continuously dwindles, while recreational demands escalate. Balancing preservation and access in our public lands is no easy act.

The most polarizing topics in the hiking community are not politics and religion, but dogs, guns, and mountain bikes. It’s a paradox; we leave a light carbon footprint on our hikes but burn fossil fuels to get to the trailhead.

It’s hard bonding young people to nature when they’re increasingly growing up urban and wired. Our country is growing more ethnically diverse, but it’s not so evident on the trail.

While I can easily cover 20 miles on the trail in a day, unfortunately and sadly many folks can’t even cover one due to our obesity epidemic.

I have on average a half dozen pairs of different hiking shoes—half of them Oboz that I use throughout the year. I donate pair or two of hiking shoes to charity each year.

Ticks repulse and fascinate me at the same time. There are lots of little yellow birds and pretty flowers that I need to become more familiar with. My soul birds are the oystercatcher and loon, what does that say about me?

Trail users before me, First Peoples, explorers, and homesteaders continue to enlighten me.

Every time I take to the trail, I learn something new.

Craig Romano is an award-winning author of more than a dozen hiking books on Washington State. Visit him at and on Facebook at "Craig Romano Guidebook Author."

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