One of the interesting things about homo sapiens is our natural curiosity. Our mind’s ability to produce questions without end allows us to move beyond a singular position and propel us out, into our environment. It began the same way 40,000 years ago, when early man woke up one morning. He came out of his cave, stretched his arms and looked at the sunrise, highlighting the distant mountain range that was his view. He couldn’t ever really pinpoint it, but something was enticing about that jagged mound of earth and trees, pointing ever-skyward. So, in one of the greatest revolutions in modern fitness, he thought to himself, “fuck it, today I’m climbing that thing.”
Hiking, the physical act walking or traversing difficult terrain, is the most basic element of human physiology. It is the one of the early crescendos of millions of years of evolution being compiled into the physiology of the modern human. When we hike, we have to endure a slow-twitch resistance that must be maintained over a long period of time to go the distance. Like the ancient man deciding to scale the mountain, sometimes in life, we’ve just gotta say “fuck it” and go for the gusto.
During my thirteen years as a boy scout in New York, I hiked some 375 miles through Harriman State Park and the Appalachian Trail, in addition to a few long treks through Western mountain ranges. But mostly, the pine and deciduous forests of lower New York allowed me to realize a few key realities about hiking, and what they mean for the favorite outdoor activity of people worldwide.
- It’s Hard.
When we go out on a hike, we often under or overshoot our own abilities. Going into the mountains is a challenge. Heck, walking to the park can be a challenge when our mind tells our body “no”. But it’s critical to remember that no matter what the point you turn around is you got out there. And that’s just the start point of your next adventure.
- Nature is Relentless
When you are out on the trail for a long time, there is one, singular, golden rule that you must drill, deep, deep into your skull: be prepared. Even if it’s sunny when you hit the trail, check the weather. You might be better off bringing that jacket JUST in case the weather decides to take a turn. Bring plenty of water (32oz bottle should do it for anything under 4-miles), proper hiking boots, designed to deal with your terrain, and everything else a good guide like this or this might recommend.
- It’s 80% Mental
There is a great saying in the There’s a great saying United States Marine Corps: “When you feel you’ve given it 100%, you’ve only really given 40%.” What the human body is capable of is still being expanded every day in fitness journies, just like yours. The only difference is, they dared to see what 50, 60, 70, all the way to 100%, really looks like. Will you?
- It’s 20% Physical
There’s no question, hiking is a challenge. Like all other athletic endeavors, it has levels, but at the basic level, you should be able to walk through steep inclines, have strong legs, good core, and strong endurance. As the hills get steeper, the trails get longer, the experiences become more memorable, and the memories become more precious. For every step you take forward, you are pushing the limits of what you may find out there even further.
- It’s best shared.
Anytime you are able to explore your world, you are giving yourself a gift. But, we often find that selflessness is the best thing we can do for ourselves. So instead of just tossing in your headphones and hitting the trail, invite a friend. You may just change a life.
- It’s all heart.
There comes a point in every young hiker’s career when they’re just sick of it. They get sore, tired, sometimes wet and blistered. Suddenly, nature isn’t really as interesting or noteworthy as all of your aches and pains. This is normal, and can be worked through. Our mind has a natural aversion to hard work. To your practical brain, it doesn’t make sense to climb a mountain, just to get to the top and look down. Why expend the effort? You must remember that, in spite of your mind’s temporary aversion, the benefits your receive bring more energy into your life, that will reinvigorate you during the less interesting and challenging portions of life’s journey.
- It’s a privelidge, not a right.
Everyday, people go out into the woods to hike, fish, bike, camp, and climb. Some of those people even walk back with the trash they brought with them. It’s shameful to leave any type of garbage in nature to decompose without being aware of the impact your littering has on the ecosystem you are guest in. The easiest way to prevent making an unsustainable ass out of yourself? Follow the principles of Leave No Trace.
- It teaches you things
When you are on the trail, the first thing you may realize is the lack of storefronts, ATMs, people, and even those great picnic baskets from Yogi Bear (Hey Boo Boo). In order to adjust, we all need to get resourceful as we learn to be better prepared for the curveballs Nature can and inevitably will throw at us. Looking for well sourced survival guides (like the one for the Boy Scout Handbook) can seem extreme, but they are the single greatest investment you can make, if you’re willing to use the knowledge.
Every walk through the woods, every night in the forest, and every deep breath from a scenic lookout offers us a unique opportunity to realize, we aren’t strangers in the world. In fact, these amazing landscapes we travel to an enjoy, no matter how far flung, are part of our home. Our presence in the natural world, our ability to appreciate it, and our responsibility to protect it, are absolutely fundamental. The greatest strengths nature has are primal, and if we want to borrow those strengths, we must preserve nature to share with the explorers yet to walk these trails. So why not enjoy them?