The trees are your coworkers now.
The trees are your coworkers now. Washington State Parks

Forget your old life. It’s time for a hike.

For millions of years, ever since humans first crawled out of the oceans, we have celebrated January 1 with a “First Day Hike,” which is to say a nice journey up the side of a mountain or along a river or through a local park. Discover Passes are not required on January 1, making it a perfect day to explore (while staying socially distant).

Usually, state park departments organize these events, coordinated with the help of rangers, the ancient and mysterious order of forest-keepers whose origins extend far back into the mists of time.

But this year, the pandemic being what it is, there will be no coordinated recreation activities. Which means that it's time for you to abandon your life of sorrows, idle wastefulness, and watching reruns of Kitchen Nightmares, and instead journey into the woods to look contentedly at a tree, and also possibly assume a new identity.

Beginners may wish to experiment with one of these ten parks-department-approved Tiny Treks, all under a mile, from Twin Harbors State Park to Bottle Beach to Lake Sylvia (which is not currently named after Sylvia O’Stayformore, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be in the future). You might also consider Bridle Trails, the closest state park to Seattle—it’s just across the lake, accessible via the 255 bus—or Saltwater State Park, down by Kent and accessible via light rail to the 165. (Note that some routes will be on Sunday schedules on New Year’s Day.)

Once you are out in the wilderness, you can begin crafting your new persona. You are a tree person now, a wilderness beast. Gone is your old humdrum life, and once you emerge from the wild—if you choose to emerge—you will be a scraggly, feral creature, wise in the ways of the comings and goings of natural forces. The project manager who just an hour ago timidly approached the trailhead is gone, and now in their place is a spirit attuned to the forces of the moon and the ineffable buzz of the cicada. (Remember to bring snack bars so you don’t get hungry.)

If you’re seeking something a bit more active, consider a geocaching hike that is basically a scavenger hunt—excellent for walks with easily-bored young people, such as toddlers and 23-year-olds. You’ll need a GPS device—generally a phone will do—and then just hop onto Geocaching.com to locate hidden caches. Download the official Parks Department Geo Tour grid, and once you’ve checked off fifty of their qualifying caches, you can get a silver commemorative coin.

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And if you’re truly daring, which you are, because you have transformed into a mighty elk, sign up for the New Year’s Day plunge to benefit Lake Sammamish. Held on January 1 from 10:30 to 1 pm, participants can make a small donation and then rush into the lake in groups of five, with proceeds going to benefit Lake Sammamish State Park. Registration must be done ahead of time—the lake does not accept walk-ins—and participants will get a free neck gaiter and coupon for a free cup of clam chowder.

Those thank-you gifts hardly seem sufficient to counter the frigid water, but then again, nobody said an untamed life of hinterland adventure would be easy. There’s no turning back now. Your former identity is erased, and you begin a new life in 2021 as a creature of the forest, wild and free. You howl at the moon, you bathe in the crystal waters of mountain springs, you make soup out of pine cones and do your taxes on flattened pieces of bark. This is your life now, you animal, you utter creature, you uncultivated brute.

Please remember to tag your social media posts with #FirstDayHikes and #WAStateParks.