I was a boy scout when I discovered the wonderful feeling of independence you get being out in the wilderness. I had a couple of chums and at as young as perhaps 14 we wondered off for overnights with some very basic equipment. My parents had lived through the depression and I think that had a negative effect on them. I know I only felt free and independent when I was out of the house wondering about. I was busy with college after high school and did little hiking until I was drafted into the US Army and that was a different sort of hiking under stressful conditions carrying a rifle that weighed nine and a half pounds empty. After the service I started hiking and climbing in the Cascades (WA) with friends and also took my family on many day hikes and a few relatively easy backpacking trips.
I appriciate what Glenn R. said. As an adult I had a stressful job (as many of us do) and I had a wife and two daughters at home. I loved them dearly, but getting out once a month or so for a quick overnight trip in the Cascade Mountains was amazingly therapeutic.
When I retired I moved to the Kitsap Peninsula near the Olympic Mountains (WA) and quickly met a group of climbers who took me to wonderful peaks in the Olympics in winter and summer alike. Although I had done a couple of prominent peaks in the Olympics I never realized what an opportunity to hike, climb, ski, backpack and snowshoe the area represented. We did between 60 and 72 hikes or climbs every year for a couple of decades. During this period the “why?" was because I was retired and it was my choice to spend a lot of time with close friends in the beautiful nearby wilderness. I also took up watercolor painting at after retirement. My icon you see here is one of my WC paintings, buy the way. I love to paint landscapes plein air, that is on-site.
We all enjoy the pleasures of civilization. At home we have electric lights, heat, shelter, cars and planes to transport us, food prepared for us if we want it. Television, telephones, computers, cell phones, calculators and Ipods. These “utilities” make life easy. I think it makes life too easy. I think we have been released from the daily responsibilities that the pioneers shouldered and the risks they took (if I may paraphrase the author Gene Fear). Because of this we become dependent rather than independent. This art of being self sufficient, at least for a while, is a strong attractions for me to hiking, climbing, and backpacking. Soon we will be connected to our cars, our homes, work, family, and friends more by electronics than by in person. It is efficient, fast, and the amount of information and social access is truly amazing. But I happen to think it also takes something away from our appreciation of nature and the joy of the personal connection with other individuals that we might experience traveling together in the great outdoors.
I realize others will differ in their philosophies of why they hike, but that is my take on it and the older I get the more I appreciate what I have done and recognize how wonderful it is and how lucky I have been to have experienced it.