If I had a dime for every time someone asked me, “Why I hike,” I’d be up about 30 cents and even then would have to make change.
In fact, I’m not even sure anyone has asked me that. But being who I am, and not to feel left out of the crowd that may be at this very moment giving this question some insightful thought, I recently asked myself, “Why I hike.”
Unlike a lot of questions I get asked and where one of two things result:
- I know the answer; or
- I make up an answer that sounds plausible.
This particular question caused me to sit in a lawn chair on a very hot and humid afternoon to give this weighty question some work.
Sometimes stating the obvious, is just that, “stating the obvious.” What I mean is sure, we hike for the obvious reasons of exercise, exploration, being outdoors and for Lynn – photography. These are great reasons to get out on a trail someplace.
But for myself I realize it’s more than that. More than just a reason to get out of the house for a day. As I sat in that lawn chair thinking and jotting down thoughts, I came to realize there are many reasons. Some have deep meaning – others not so much.
Regardless of their deepness or lack thereof, here are 4 reasons “Why I hike”
Unplug from Technology
While I’m not a huge techno geek, I do like what my computer and phone have to offer.
Problem is they offer too much – all the time.
Like too many choices on a restaurant menu. I find it so easy to get sucked into the swirling endless vortex known as the internet. Getting the news whenever and from wherever you choose; to Facebook(gosh, I love kitten/puppy videos – note sarcasm); Twitter; Instagram; email(does anyone even use email anymore?); apps for everything, including hiking; iTunes; iPhones; to I don’t care anymore.
For me, I just need to get out on the trail and leave technology behind. Being unplugged allows me to focus on why I came out here in the first place.
No chance of the phone ringing; no opportunity to check a newsfeed; can’t check email, Twitter or Facebook till later. It’s just me and nature alone. I have a difficult time rationalizing why people go to the outdoors to get away from it all, but bring all the gadgets along that keep them connected to everything they wanted to get away from.
I’m no different in that I can easily fall into endless hours roaming on the computer, checking my phone or binge watching something on Netflix.
Most of us are not as important as we think we are and if we think we’re that important – we got some bigger issues to deal with. Chances are the world and my world will survive just fine without me on-line for the next few hours. I figure that if the world ends when I’m hiking, someone will tell me about it when I get back.
I remember several years ago hiking back on a trail with Lynn in Algonquin Park. Along the way we passed a family when the father’s cell phone rang. Guess what? – he answered it! I also found out it’s rude to laugh and shake your head when this happens.
Leaving the cell phone at home with the computer and letting them recharge and me getting out on the trail to re-fuel myself is one reason “Why I hike.”
Recharge – Mind and Soul
Much like our cell phones and electronics that need recharging when their batteries are running low, my mind and soul also needs that re-charge time.
The everyday chaos of work; home; just living can take its toll. I’m no different than anybody else. Out on a trail someplace provides that avenue that gives me the mental and emotional space to recharge my batteries.
Hiking allows me to put aside the pressures of living. Being surrounded by the stillness of nature washes all of that “stuff” away, if only for a brief moment. Hiking allows me to be at one with myself.
It provides a mental distraction, allowing me to focus on the environment around me. Sometimes, I let my mind wonder and go wherever it chooses. Other times I like to focus very sharply. watching each step I take, to ensure exact and precise foot placement. At those times, it’s like being in another dimension; another universe where everything beyond the trail in front of my feet ceases to exist.
Regardless, one needs to find an outlet to recharge oneself, because living life can and is draining. Being able to recharge my mind and soul – to be at peace; in the place you know you’re supposed to be is another reason “Why I hike.”
Challenges Your Limits
I like to push the envelope sometimes.The physical and mental challenges I find in hiking are intertwined like strands of DNA. Going the distance; what is the rating for the trail. Is it easy, moderate, difficult or challenging; what will we see. It’s all part of the mix.
Like most people, I can let life slip into a routine that is easy and very comfortable. Don’t rock the boat; let’s not do anything that takes us out of our comfort zone; what will others think of me; I’m too old for that. But I’ve come to realize that sometimes you just got to get out there and rock the crap out of the boat; push the edge of the envelope!
So, forget your age, it’s only a number.
There are times when I purposely plan a hike that is very challenging in either distance or elevation changes. I do it because I like to push limits. In fact, at times, it can be downright exhausting. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way or to be in any other place.
In addition to the physical benefits of hiking such as cardiovascular workouts; lower blood pressure; muscular fitness; weight control and all that wonderful stuff, I love the physical challenges that hiking can present.
To me, the bigger and tougher the hills are the better I like it. I’m a bit weird that way. In fact, I prefer a day of going up, up, up versus the down the other side. Actually, going downhill is harder on your body, especially your knees.
Going uphill results in two choices: reach the top or turn around. Reaching the top only requires the mental perseverance to make me not turn around. Physically, I know I can do it. It’s always the mental part.
The mental part for me is always the hardest. Can I go another kilometre to see what other adventure there might be ahead? Can I climb one more hill and be blown away by the sights in front of me? The mental part is tough because, my default position would be to quit; to turn around; not to go the extra distance to experience something neat; not to climb that one last hill.
As an example, sometimes at the bottom of a real long steep hill, if I look up at what’s ahead I think, “this isn’t going to be fun.”
I’ve learned in order for it to be fun, to do the following.
- just keep focussing only about a metre or two in front of my feet;
- keep putting one foot in front of the other;
- at the top, be proud of what you just accomplished and enjoy the reward of the view;
- have a drink and a snack.
Although its all physical, it really is all mental.
I like to challenge myself to get out there and rock the boat a bit; challenge myself to see where the limits are. That’s another reason of “Why I hike.”
See, I told you I was a bit weird.
Focuses The Senses
Out on a trail someplace, hiking and the outdoors engage our senses. At least mine do anyways. I want to engage all of my senses. Scanning the trees to find out what bird is chirping close by; hearing and searching for what’s rustling in the underbrush; watching the clouds change and move across the horizon; scanning through the forest searching for movement.
Once I find I’ve been going for a bit, and settle into a rhythm that feels like you can go on forever, my mind starts to clear and I begin to take more notice of my surroundings. How does the ground feel beneath my hiking boots? Is it hard, soft, do my boots shift and slip when I make a foot placement. What smells can I distinguish. Even now, the smell of a pine forest and moss mixed together, instantly takes me back over 50 years to a time I spent with an Aunt.
How does the sun filter down through the forest canopy? How does the breeze feel against your skin?
Feeling the bark on a tree that has been rubbed smooth as a table top and immediately know countless others have grabbed that tree in exactly the same spot you have, in order to give some support on a steep incline.
To quote an old quote, “sometimes you just got to slow down and smell the roses.”
I read that sometimes quiet is the best noise. It reminds me how much I love hearing no noise at all. My senses make me feel at peace and connected to the earth and that’s another reason “Why I hike.”
There you have it.
Four reasons that get me on and keep me heading back out to a trail someplace.
Actually, I have a fifth as well – I really like hiking!
Would love to hear about your experiences as well.