Yeah, yeah. You’re not that kind of person. A hike is so…well…physical. Please. Consider taking a hike. It will change your life.
I come from a family of walkers. We do it for the exercise, but just as often it’s to work off steam from something stressful, sort out a problem that seems—before our legs start moving—impossible, or keep a medical issue in check. (One of my siblings has diabetes; he avoids insulin injections by walking.)
But even better than a walk is a hike. A hike is a walk in a wild place. One of my favorite Christmas memories is of an unconventional Christmas Day with my middle brother, hiking to a waterfall he wanted to see (in a downpour) and along a beach I love. (And then having a fun dinner at a little French restaurant on the way home. Perfect.)
Usually a hike is off the pavement, but even that’s negotiable. A few weeks ago at Mount Rainier, we encountered dozens of people using walkers and even electric wheelchairs to hike. The park has asphalt trails just above Paradise Lodge– very definitely a wild place. So if you can’t make it without some mechanical help, don’t rule yourself out. Hiking makes you strong—mentally, physically, and emotionally. Go for it if you can.
Not every hike will be to the Eighth Wonder of the World, but they all hold beauty and the chance to remember that we are part of something large and wonderful. A hike is a way to connect—to nature, to the people with you, to yourself, to the Divine.
You don’t have to live in southern Utah to be near a wild place. Some city parks offer great hiking options. (I have logged many miles in both Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and Hummel Park in Omaha.) A wildlife refuge or a state park near you may have hiking options. You don’t have to start with the Appalachian Trail either. Just find a path on public land and give it a try. But be smart—go with at least one other person.
Ask everyone you know about hiking if you don’t have someone to get on the trail with. I found a terrific hiking group via a public art advocacy group I belonged to. Work on finding people to hike with if you have to. Going with buddies is more fun. And it’s safer. That doesn’t mean you have to jabber the whole time you are on the trail. Even when you are hiking with a group of twenty, you can spend part of the time in your own quiet space on the trail. If a loved one is willing to give it a go, start there. If not, look for organized hiking efforts that will give you a chance to meet others interested in getting out.
You can spring for boots once you know more about how and when you want to go, but wear sturdy shoes the very first time. If you’re concerned about balance, take trekking poles or a walking stick. (Ski poles work fine if you already have them.) Learn about “the ten essentials.” If you hike in earnest, you want them with you.
Check with the information desk if you are in a park that has one. See if there are online comments with current information about hikes in the area. Talk to people on the trail. (This often nets you a great idea for your next hike and sometimes people to go out with.) If there are hiking guide books for your area, they’re great for not only finding the trailhead but also for giving tips on when the wildflowers will be in bloom or the fall color usually peaks.
You’ll amaze yourself at how far you can go eventually. I hiked over 100 miles that first summer–in six to twelve mile chunks. Most of those hikes involved at least 1000 feet of elevation gain. Please don’t think I started this is good shape. I wasn’t—but I was by the end of the hiking season! I was just short of 60 that year, but some of the strongest hikers in our group are in their mid-70’s. If you test yourself and try to do a bit more, where you end up is astounding.
Not every step of every hike is exhilarating. It’s work. But when you get to the destination you’re in awe both of the scenery and the fact that you got there. It’s amazing.
If you can find a way, take a hike. In case you need a visual nudge, I took all five of these photos on hikes.
Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. For more, see her website: www.mining-silver.com