In writing this article I started with a clear picture in my mind about why I like to hike. I don’t have to think too hard about why I enjoy hiking so much or about what drives me in life and why I do the things I do. Are other people that transparent in their motivations or is it just me? The following are just some of the reasons we hike. Some will have an affinity with them and others will think ‘what the…?’
The obvious reason that many people hike is fitness. It doesn’t matter how far you walk or for how long, you are improving your health at the same time. For many of us it is the opportunity to get out of the office and exercise muscles we don’t use much of the week when we’re sitting at a desk.
The Lancet (one of the world’s oldest and best known general medical journals) found that sitting at least eight hours a day increases your chance of premature death by up to 60% and this is now considered as posing as great a threat to your health as smoking, and causing more deaths than obesity. The prevention? One hour of brisk walking or cycling, which can be spread over the day.
Weight loss is also another health benefit of hiking, in particular for males. While I may not be trying to lose weight when hiking, I will lose on average up to 7 kg (15lbs) on a two-week hike. Females will usually not lose the same amount due to physiological differences but will still lose weight and tone up on long hikes.
For most of us hiking is very different from what we do in our day jobs. We are walking around, we are outside and we usually don’t have computers and mobile phones beeping at us. I carry a fair amount of technology for the blog and I enjoy going into areas with no phone and Internet access. Between this blog and work, I spend about ten hours a day online so it’s nice to just get away.
In addition to health and fitness, for me exercise in any form, is also about thinking time! As a result I like doing forms of exercise where I can go into ‘autopilot’, let my body do what it needs (left right, left right, repeat). I can devote part of my brain to doing what I need to do but this automation process also allows me to focus on other things. Most of my ideas for this blog, for work, for life in general occur when I am in this autopilot mode.
Another reason at least from my perspective is connecting to nature. I have had what can only be described as ‘spiritual moments’ on three occasions during my life and all of these have been in the outdoors. I have done and seen some amazing things over my lifetime and I haven’t finished yet. I enjoy just being in nature and interacting with the environment. I enjoy sunrises; I enjoy the play of light and shadow that creates new scenes even though I may have visited an area dozens of times before.
For me Uluru is a very special place that just makes me feel alive
In recent years I have discovered night hiking and when the conditions are right I take this opportunity any time I can. In being in nature you get to see things that many people never experience; its just plain life affirming.
Time with your significant other/best friend is also a reason that many people hike. You get to exercise all of the above and do it with the person with whom you have a strong connection. One of the strangest questions that we have ever been asked is ‘what do you talk about for so long?’ We talk about everything and anything, we laugh, we argue and we talk about what we are seeing and experiencing. We live these memories long after a hike is over and it reaffirms that we weren’t just imagining something because someone else was there.
When I hike with my wife I will usually follow behind and let her set the pace and focus on her boots, which is fine, until recently when she walked under a low tree branch which she cleared quite comfortably without having to dip her head; but I didn’t. She couldn’t work out why I was on the ground when she turned around, @#*&! After I recovered we did laugh!
Another reason for hiking is that you learn a lot about nature and a lot about yourself. You get to see things others don’t see. You come to learn that there is a big wide world out there containing some pretty amazing things that has been hidden to you up to this point. I like to take photographs and some of my best shots have happened at odd times or at times you would think had nothing to offer. I love taking wilderness photos just after a big storm and as result ‘bad’ weather is not an obstacle but an opportunity.
Hiking is a challenge. Obviously if you are fit, short hikes are usually easier physically but you still need to overcome the mental challenges. We need challenges in our life that take us outside of our comfort zone. The ‘use it or loose it’ concept applies to both your mental as well as your physical self. This is where I get on my soapbox. People will often assume that because I, or they are in the older age bracket that they can’t keep up or won’t be able to do something that a younger hiker can. This may, or may not be true. Ability has nothing to do with age and while I don’t mend as quickly as I did 20 years ago if I injure myself, I have a greater level of experience and know my own body and my own abilities. There are many 40 year+ hikers out there, doing some serious hiking. Don’t let age restrict your dreams, just ease into it if you are starting late in life.
While most people can relate to what I have written so far I’ll now move into the realms of crazy, or at least that’s how people look at me when I discuss some of my more extreme adventures and the reasons behind them.
I’m what can only be described as a type A personality; I’m competitive, outgoing and ambitious. I don’t like being told that something can’t be done. Thankfully this competitive streak is inward focused and I see myself as my biggest competition. I still intend to be hiking for the next thirty years at least and have some extreme thru hikes planned that generate the crazy looks from friends and family. As an example of this extreme behaviour I decided to do a 54km hike the day before Christmas few years ago (listen to my podcast of this journey). Partially just because, and also as a way of determining my current abilities. for me this was about gauging my ability as I work up to a series of through hikes of 650 km+ that I have planned over the next six years. It was the first long distance solo hike I have done in a wilderness area and it was a very interesting feeling to know that there wasn’t another living sole anywhere within 20 km in any direction. I operate differently when I’m solo hiking, in fact I’m probably safer when I am hiking alone because I am very, very, focused on my surroundings because I know there is a lot less margin for error when you are by yourself.
So whatever the reason you hike, and whatever the distance, the important thing to remember is just to get out there!
Don’t have time to read the article? Listen to the podcast on Why do we hike?