Why Don’t You Stop and Smell the Roses?

Final sunrise on the Pacific Crest Trail | Northern WA; just a few hours walk away from the US/Canadian border at Manning Park. #thehikinglife #pacificcresttrail #natgeo #rei1440project #thruhike #thegreatoutdoors #sunrise #sunrise_sunsets_aroundworld #bpmag @pctassociation #glacierpeakwilderness #pct

Sunrise on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012)

“How far have you hiked today?”

About thirty miles.



“Why don’t you stop and smell the roses?”

I chuckle every time I hear this line. Do the people asking the question actually think about what they are saying? Do they honestly believe that just because some people cover more distance than they do, it stands to reason that they can’t be enjoying themselves?

A Rose by any other Name

Just for kicks and giggles let me throw out a couple of alternative explanations.

As unlikely as it may seem to the questioner, could it be that the person they are advising to smell the roses, hikes more miles because they are fitter and/or more experienced and/or carrying a lighter pack than they are?

“Nah, nah, that can’t have anything to do with it.”

Ok, try this one out for size. Could it be that the questionee hikes more miles because s/he loves to be walking at both dawn and dusk, when the animals are out, the light is at its best, and there is an energy in the atmosphere that you won’t find at any other time of day? In other words, the said hiker simply enjoys spending more time walking than in camp?

“Come on, man, enough with these cockamamie theories.”

The Irony

More often than not, hikers that tell others to “stop and smell the roses” are the same ones that are sleeping in while the rest of nature is waking up. When the birds are singing and the first light of dawn comes streaming through the trees, they are generally still catching Z’s below a roof of nylon, while I am out walking beneath a much more agreeable (at least from my perspective) ceiling of emerging blue.

At days end when the sun’s descending, wildlife reemerging and the sky is turning fifty shades of crimson orange, “Team Smell the Roses” has usually long since set up camp and called it good. My preference is to still be hiking. Not because I’m trying to make more miles, but instead because it makes me feel like I’m more a part of the daily miracle that is unfolding all around me.

Let it Be

Appreciation of the natural world has little to do with how fast or long you walk, and everything to do with how open you are to taking on board Mother Nature’s lessons.

There is such a wide range of motivations, experience and fitness levels in the backpacking community, that suggesting to another hiker that they are not taking the time to enjoy their surroundings makes no sense. Indeed, when you consider that the people doling out the unsolicited advice don’t usually know the person they are addressing from a bar of soap, it seems even crazier.

“Why don’t you stop and smell the roses?”

I have an alternative idea; how about everyone just hike and backpack in the manner of their own choosing, and let other folks do the same.








Why Don’t You Stop and Smell the Roses? — 13 Comments

  1. I am not a genius but it seems to me that you will smell (and see) more roses in 30 miles than you do in 10 miles

  2. Why must we always make hierarchies of excellence out of everything? Or at least, why do we need those below us to define and give meaning to our excellence?

    Hiking styles are philosophies in the flesh.

    I don’t know about you, but I retreat to the wilderness to exchange social and economic restraints for the challenges posed by raw nature herself.

    I am able to exercise a greater degree of freedom in choosing how I will go about it.

    I take a more utilitarian approach to hiking. I pick and choose what gear and methods fit my philosophy, which ofcourse changes over time.

    I also sometimes feel the pressure of those that emphasize the “hierarchy of excellence ” as I call it. They speak so pompously of their particular hiking styles and gear, or how many miles they put in, or how heavy or ultralight their packs are.

    Look, gear and methods are only as good as they fit the philosophy and needs of the hiker using them. Trust me I want to hear about great gear and methods, but don’t you think some people take it just a bit too far when they seemingly garnish their illusions of self importance and extraordinary-ism with the contrast of individual means.

  3. I’ve been Working on an idea: tour-hiking, as opposed to thru-hiking.
    I think it true that obsession with miles is enemy to the “roses.” But you can hike “big” miles and still not obsess with mileage goals.

  4. I certainly respect anyone’s idea of how to enjoy nature, whether at higher speed or by sleeping late and relaxing in camp. I personally would not enjoy seeing more miles faster because I want to stop and watch birds, identify flowers, look at the landscape around me, and hiking faster means I only see my feet; I personally do see much more if I stop and appreciate my surroundings. I’ve always felt that way, even when younger, fitter and potentially faster. Getting to the top has never been a purpose of my hike. Sitting and observing is fundamental to my enjoyment of the outdoors; I see so much that way, letting animals and birds approach while I remain still, noticing plants I would have missed, watching a mountain change as the light changes, etc. If I have to race along to keep up with others, I am miserable, because I know I am holding them back, and still not hiking my own hike. As a result, I choose hiking buddies carefully. I would not be compatible with fast hikers, and now with age and physical issues, I couldn’t keep up anyway!

    That’s no judgment on anyone else’s hike, and I promise not to ask anyone why they aren’t stopping to smell the roses, if they also promise not to laugh at my short distance days.

  5. I get it I really do. Some times I’ll say things like this so I can hear them reminding myself to slow down, some times as an opener to conversation. I never mean to critique any ones hiking style, gear carried or recommended, or distance covered. I have gotten a different view point and/or method to incorporate into my own hiking, and enjoyed them. Sure there are some that I do not carry, some I keep thinking about, most all have been fun to hear. My point is we shouldn’t and don’t have to take all of the suggestions to heart and most are not given with the intent of changing our lives or methods. It seems the more of the blogs I read the more sensitive we, (and less tolerant) as a community, are becoming. Just a thought; no more insightful or knowledgeable than any other.

  6. I’ve never heard the term, “from a bar of soap” before. I always used, “from a bale of hay,” yet that phrase isn’t in the free dictionary. It’s nice to learn something new.

  7. Great article. I enjoy smashing the estimated times but still manage to get 200+ iphone pics per day. It doesn’t mean that I’m not “taking it in” or appreciating my time out in nature any less than people who will take 30 minute breaks every 2 hours! 3 minutes to stop and enjoy a look out or a 30 second stop to take an awesome picture, 10 – 15 minute break for lunch, I like to keep moving while I’m on a hike, that’s my style 🙂 But I also respect that not everyone is the same and I wouldn’t think any less of people who do take their time, it’s just not going to slow me down!

  8. For me, the hike is my “stop and smell”… I practicall do everything outside as it is, so I don’t feel the need to stop… Ever. This irks my wife, she is definitely a stopper. I like the feeling of moving through nature. The more I move, the more I absorb it. That said, I totally enjoy days where I might only move a mile inside of 5 hours. It’s usually a HOT day when that happens, and the goal is to swim rather than hike. I agree with your sentiment though Cam. When I stop to talk to hikers, it’s to chat for a quick moment, light conversation about gear or water sources, and a nice final word of encouragement. I try to never criticize anyone in the beauty of nature.

  9. My perference is to hike at a steady pace and to stop when necessary. Stopping can be for any number of reasons, including “smelling the roses.” When I’m moving I purposely engage all of my senses, which i guess is “smelling the roses.” I know I take in a lot when on the trail. Some are obsessed with distance, others not so much. I guess the important thing is that hiking gets people into nature and are free to hike any way they choose.

  10. “My preference is to still be hiking. Not because I’m trying to make more miles, but instead because it makes me feel like I’m more a part of the daily miracle that’s unfolding all around me.”

    I don’t think I have seen this sentiment better expressed. Thank you, Swami.

    I think there is a physical and mental state that the “Smell the roses” questioners have not experienced and therefore cannot understand. For me, it took until the middle of my second thru-hike. Although I can find this place more easily, it still requires hiking at least three weeks to reacquire. At some point everything comes more into focus: colors become more vivid, food tastes better, jokes are funnier, the scenery becomes more amazing, and injuries become less painful. When in this state, the world makes sense to me, and I feel connected to everything around me, and grateful. I suppose others call this being in the “Moment.”

    I suspect that endorphins play a part in this change, as does the fresh air, exercise, sleep, etc. Whatever the explanation, it is indescribable to those you have not experienced it.

    I cannot begin to keep up with your pace, but I share the joy in wanting to see what is around the next bend. And the excitement of hearing bird songs just before first light, knowing I get to get up and hike another day!


    • Hey Bo,

      I think that’s one of the best comments I’ve received. Spot on.

      Thank you for both the kind words and especially for sharing your thoughts.

      You’re right…..jokes are funnier out in the boonies……I hadn’t thought of that before.



  11. This post is great and hits a topic far beyond hiking: why humans aren’t generally satisfied with what they got and where they are.

    You say maybe you hike more miles cause you’re in good shape and enjoy a lighter load. But that’s not a reason to do big miles; it’s a necessary condition.

    About appreciating dawn or dusk, you don’t have to be moving to appreciate them in the way you describe. You can do it just by sitting, and probably in a more detailed way.

    And even if you must move to fully appreciate them, that doesn’t answer why you don’t smell roses in the afternoon.

    More importantly, your answers don’t address the fact that the number of miles you complete is positively correlated with your breaking records, your list of global hikes, and the amount of content you can put online.

    This, I think, is part of the criticism you hear when people suggest smelling roses. In other words, as someone who’s probably introspective, you may not hear “slow down” so much as “your motives are tainted”.

    And that may account for the whiffs of defensiveness and condescension in your post, which could’ve been more sincere and searching if you’d noted:

    (i) getting miles and hikes done is crucial to how you see yourself and present yourself to others, and

    (ii) Buddha’s the only person who should tell a fast hiker to slow down since we all need continual stimulation, change and ego-reinforcement.

    Frank discussion on this topic is rare (outside of religious contexts, where it can be irritating). So I thank you for that. And for introducing me to the fantastic Greek hike in the Zagori Mtns.

    PS – I’m not religious in any way. And don’t do yoga, tai chi, meditation, etc.

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