Wandering Monk - Hiker Spotlight
Dan Nobles is living proof that no matter their background, everyone can find peace and healing while hiking across Mother Nature’s wonders.
A man with a storied military, family and ministry background, Dan has been enjoying his passion for hiking for many years, a passion that has led him to creating his own YouTube channel, The Wandering Monk.
Dan is originally from northwestern Alabama, where he grew up in what he called “the sticks”. The youngest of six brothers, he loved spending time with his family exploring the outdoors.
“It was a great place to grow up,” he recalled. “Dad would take us out on long walks in the woods and share stories … that’s actually my earliest memory with him, when I was three or four years old.”
Dan said his father, a World War II veteran who lived through the Great Depression, was always a hero to him.
Dan currently resides with his wife of 46 years in Kansas. The couple have two daughters and seven grandchildren, and Dan said his grandkids are a big incentive for his hiking passion.
“One of the reasons why I want to hike is because I want my grandkids to see what I do,” he said. “I can’t wait to take them hiking when they are ready. I see it as full circle, since my love for the outdoors started with my Dad and now I can hopefully pass that on.”
As for his many years of marriage, Dan said he is blessed.
“I definitely married up,” he said. “She’s put up with a lot during my military years and since.”
Speaking of his military service, Dan was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years until he retired.
“I was a combat engineer officer, and over the years I definitely had my share of carrying heavy backpacks,” he said. “When I retired, I swore I’d never put on another backpack ever again. I guess God had other plans.”
Shortly after retiring, Dan enrolled in seminary school, eventually becoming a minister and served as a hospital chaplain.
“I guess I can’t say I’m actually ‘retired’ … I am happily working with veterans, volunteering to assist veterans who are in hospice care,” he explained. “It’s through a great program titled ‘Veterans’ Last Patrol’. I really love doing that.”
Whether it is military or ministry, Dan has always felt strongly about service.
“That goes back to my Dad,” he said. He was a humble, caring, compassionate man, and I believe my brothers and I inherited that passion of service from him.”
Dan has published a book titled “Schooled by the Smokies,” where he details different lessons he learned while hiking through the Smokey Mountains.
“Reflecting on my years of military service, I realized that we all have wounds – and not just physical ones – that we endure in life,” he said. “For me, the trail is where I have found healing. Being out in the midst of nature, I have found harmony and peace. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Dan stresses that regardless of experience, every hiker and backpacker should commit to a great deal of research before heading out on hikes.
“It is absolutely crucial to conduct research gear and the area one is exploring, and that includes weather and what animals populate the specific area,” he said. “I am leaving soon to visit Isle Royale in Michigan, which is considered to be the least visited national state park in the lower 48. Through research, I learned that the area is populated with moose and wolves.
“I also discovered that it takes six hours by ferry ride to get there, so I’m glad I took the time to research and learn.”
Dan estimates that he has covered roughly 8,000 miles over his dozen and dozens of hikes over the past seven years, everywhere from Wind River Range in Wyoming to the Appalachian Trail to two Rails to Trails hikes in Wisconsin and Kansas.
He is currently in the midst of a personal – and very challenging – goal, which he calls “The Trails Last Traveled.” He is hiking a different trail across the nation each month for 12 months. This included a trek on the Pinhotti Trail in January, where he experienced a difficult ice storm, and continued last month with the Flint Hills Trail in Kansas, where he nearly suffered a serious heat related illness.
He recalled another dangerous trip, hiking in the Smoky Mountains from Newfound to Ice Water Gap in Tennessee where he was impacted by much rain and hail.
“It was 45 degrees when the rain started pouring, and a half-mile later the temperature dropped 10 degrees and it began ferociously hailing,” he said. “I like to joke that I was swimming along the Appalachian Stream. That hike certainly gave me bragging rights.”
Dan said the Wind River Range hike so far has been his most memorable.
“This was two years ago and I hiked with my brother,” he recalled. “We went through a place called the Texas Pass, which was a big loop from the trailhead at Big Sandy up 10,500 feet of Jackass Pass and down another 11, 500 feet rough section called Texas Pass.
“Coming down, we see the Cirque of the Towers, five huge 12,000- to 15,000-foot mountains in a semi-circle,” he continued. “We put up our tents at the base, and when we woke up for breakfast we saw this stunning, breathtaking view. Beautiful and majestic. We sat there for hours. That was the epitome of my hiking experiences.”
In addition to continuing his “Trails Last Traveled” initiative, Dan hopes to experience two long trails – the 550-mile Camino de Santiago in Spain and the 150-mile Pilgrim’s Way in England.
As for his “Wandering Monk” YouTube channel, Dan said it started simply as a way to save his experiences for his family.
“I wanted to make and save videos capturing my legacy, and I wanted to do more than show a trail,” he said. “So I started addressing topics and shared more about my personal experiences. Then, some of my Army buddies – many of them disabled – started watching the videos, and it has grown ever since.”
Currently, there are more than 180 videos that he has created over the past year-and-a-half with over 1,500 followers as of the time of the story being written.
The videos cover a wide array of topics.
“I talk about how gear works for me, I show the beauty of trails and how I hike, which is a little different,” he said. “To me, hiking is more about the journey than the destination. I listen to nature and I reflect … to me, it’s not about conquering the trail – if anything, it will conquer me – as much as it is about respecting nature and finding peace.”
In addition to the YouTube channel, Dan also has a website, www.wanderingmonkhikes.com, and also hosts a podcast called Wandering Monk Hikes Podcastthat can be found on various sites. He certainly stays busy outside of hiking, with a new podcast released every Monday, a new video every Wednesday and new blogs being published on the website on a regular basis.
As for his trail name, Dan said it was chosen for him.
“I was given that name by my peers … my church community has called me Monk for a long time, and once it became common knowledge that I love to explore nature, the name changed to Wandering Monk. Now everyone calls me that, so I guess it’s stuck.”
Reflecting on his life, Dan said it’s easy to understand why hiking and ministry seem to be entwined together.
“There’s a quote that says, ‘We oftentimes have to look out in order to see in,’ and backpacking and hiking gives me the opportunities to do just that,” he said. “I have found a great deal of healing on the trails. I believe others will too if they give it a chance.
“Life cuts us, life is hard,” he continued. “Life is a daily challenging grind. Hopefully the trails can give you a place to find healing, like it did for me.”