I like to hike. It’s good exercise and it’s a good way to get “out there,” wherever that may be. Sometimes, a hike starts at the foot of the hill a block away from my house. Other times, I travel hundreds of miles after months of planning and preparation and training. Either way, it’s a great way to see something other than the inside of an office or a house or a car.
Hiking involves being outdoors. Being outdoors involves air that is, we hope, clean and fresh. At a minimum, it hasn’t been sitting stagnant in the same room for days or spit out at us through a vent after traveling through a series of tubes from a machine somewhere. Being outside is far more natural for humans than being cooped up in buildings and vehicles all the time. There’s a certain reconnection with our inner selves that takes place when we journey beyond the walls we keep ourselves in.
Hiking is good exercise and many of us feel the need to get more of it than we normally do. Exercise makes our blood move and our hearts pump, but that’s not all. It makes our brains release those “happy chemicals” that aid in our sense of overall well-being. Those chemicals can lift our mood, heal our bodies, and make us feel happier.
For me, hiking is usually a group activity. Being in a group that shares the love (or, at least, the like) of hiking spurs conversations that can spur friendship that can spur more connection and happiness and well-being. Even on those occasions where I hike alone, more often than not, I meet someone else and share a thought or two with a fellow hiker. I find that most of the hikers I meet are really nice people and willing to impart a few words of encouragement or other friendly gestures.
Take last week for example, I took my dog on a hike to the top of a nearby hill. It’s maybe a four-mile roundtrip with about 600 feet of elevation gain. It was just the two of us and she isn’t much of a talker. I love her to death, but she doesn’t engage in conversation. My sole purpose was to get some exercise for the two of us. But along the way, I met a family and chatted with them about dogs, places to hike both near and far, and kids heading to college, since we determined that we both have one. That was a very pleasant exchange and I felt better because of it. I also met an older gentleman named Don who is an avid hiker and a very positive person. We talked for a few minutes about the benefits of hiking and I was inspired by this man. He told me he is almost 80 years old and has been going on a hike several times a week for nearly three decades. Because of that conversation, I have a new motivator to attain a life-long goal to be in as good a shape as Don when I’m 80, both physically and mentally.
So, there are side benefits. Many of the people I’ve met on the thousands of trail miles I’ve trod have been nothing short of fascinating. I find I can learn something new from just about anyone and the trail is often a place where people feel less guarded and more open. Maybe it’s because they feel more like themselves, more connected to their inner being.
I also like seeing new places and being in a variety of environments. I’ve hiked on beaches, in deserts, in foothills, in mountains, on snow, on ice, on sand, on gravel, on granite, on shale, in mud, through rivers and streams and marshes. I’ve hike through forests, fields, farms, barren wastelands, flower-strewn meadows, and lush tropical jungles. Every experience makes me grateful to be alive and grateful for this beautiful planet we call home. I’m in constant awe of the magnitude and grandeur of our world, of its diversity and variety, and its power to lift my spirits.
There’s also a deep sense of accomplishment that comes with taking on and conquering a challenging hike. Whether it’s a short up-and-back, loop, or end-to-end type hike, setting a goal and finishing it brings satisfaction to the soul, instilling confidence and soul-nourishing knowledge that you’ve accomplished something. Combine that with the fresh air, the scenery, the exercise, and either the sociality or solitude – whichever you seek – and you have a recipe for that intangible lift we all need periodically.
Being out there is more than walking along a trail somewhere. It’s opening your mind and soul to an experience that is new and different than what we see and do every day. If you let it, hiking will rejuvenate your soul while exercising your body.
That’s why I like hiking.
For more on my personal hiking experiences, see: www.highadventuring.com.
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