Column Ilja: Book club

‘It appears to be a fad, hiking, but that doesn’t mean I will stop doing it.’

No sooner are the days becoming longer and sunnier, or I get restless. A rolled-up mat and a tent are beckoning me from the corner of my room, and I want to go out, hike, and empty my mind of all the chaos of everyday life. In the final stages of my thesis, this longing to escape is huge. The need to leave everything behind and become one with nature and oneself.

I close my eyes and make detailed plans for a camping trip. It serves as meditation, and my tired brain, with all its wandering thoughts about tasks and obligations, finds rest. If I could, I would leave tomorrow.

In the final stages of my thesis, this longing to escape is huge

I have had this camping fantasy for just a few years now, ever since I read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Before that, I would rather stay in a cabin than go camping. The book tells the story of the protagonist (Cheryl) hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, a 4265-kilometre-long trail along the west coast of North America. Heavily burdened, both physically and mentally, she undertakes the hike, from which she emerges, without wanting to sound too corny, a different person.

‘Isn’t that a book from Oprah’s book club?’ A friend says when I share my favourite book with her. ‘The Pacific Crest Trail is currently all the rage among women in their mid-life crisis wanting to rediscover themselves’, she says. And she is right. The number of hikers along the trail has tripled as a result of the book, as has the share of women hiking it. There has even been a film made of the book. It is somewhat disappointing when your favourite book turns out to be so popular and your motivation to go hiking so terribly cliché.

I did not necessarily have to cover the full 4265 kilometres; I would start small

But, cliché or not, last year I went hiking for the first time, with a tent, hiking boots and a large canteen with water. I did not necessarily have to cover the full 4265 kilometres; I would start small with the Pieterpad. And not all of it, just two days, because the resits were coming up. My expectations for my little hike were tremendous: transformation into a new me, free of worries, obligations and duties.

The hike was fabulous and much too short. Too short to empty my mind and ‘undergo a transformation.’ Just when I began to become accustomed to the rhythm of hiking, I had to return to Wageningen for my studies.

This year (knock on wood), I will not have any resits. I will probably travel for more than two days if I get my thesis done in time. And I signed up for WUR’s new book club, the Reading for Planet Earth Book Club – Perhaps it will have a similar effect as Oprah’s book club.

Ilja Bouwknegt is 24, a bachelor’s student of Forest and Nature Management, and an active member of the study association WSBV Sylvatica. She sometimes does bat research at night.

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