Going Back to the Basics: Why Hiking Is Fun
One thing has become strikingly evident for me: hiking is more mental than physical. Sure, going for a hike is an aerobic exercise that improves cardiovascular fitness. It releases endorphins and strengthens certain parts of the body, but hear me out. While continuing to prepare for my coming Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I’ve learned that training for the trail has been the easy part. I’m walking up and down hills. I’m crushing miles and switchbacks. I’m crossing creeks and trudging through snow, mud, and rain (sometimes all three at once). And don’t get me wrong; it’s been extremely challenging. However, the hardest part has been the mental side of things.
Lately, it seems like I have hit a wall. I have the tendency to throw myself into things and make an activity more intense than it needs to be. My head is stuck in the “go big or go home” mentality. While training for the AT, I’ve fallen into a pattern of treating the act of hiking like work. It’s something that I have to do. Logistically, I have to hit the trail very frequently in order to stay in shape.
This is a dream come true to have a perfect excuse for hiking so often. But I’m starting to feel the weight of the pressure I’ve placed on myself. Sometimes I ignore my reasons for hiking in the first place. The power behind the “why I love to hike” can get lost in the shuffle of training for the AT. This has caused massive feelings of burnout, which is scary considering I leave for Springer in four months.
A part of me believes this is not the time for an existential crisis, but as with all things in life, it’s happening whether I like it or not. Therefore, I need to have a little more compassion for myself in order to productively work through what I’m feeling. I believe it would be beneficial to go back to the basics, so to speak, and take a look at why I think hiking is fun. Not only will this be helpful now, but it will be helpful when I’m on trail. Reminding myself of my core hiking values will be a huge motivator to keep moving forward in spite of the struggle when I start to feel frustrated and worn down.
Hiking Is What I Make of It
One thing I love about hiking is that it can be adapted to match what I need at the moment very quickly. If I want to go at it alone, I can. If I don’t want to be by myself, I can bring friends along. If I’m feeling angry and pissed off at the world, I can put my headphones in, shove my nose to the ground, and walk on. If I want to be more open to the process and connect with nature, I can slow down and take in every leaf or blade of grass I come across. Hiking is so versatile and can be whatever I make it. It’s my hike and no one else’s. And that is an incredible thing.
Noticing the Beauty Around
Another thing I love about hiking is how remarkably gorgeous it can be. There is nothing like getting up early enough to hit the trail and seeing the sun come up. The whole earth beaming, set on fire against its rays, roaring across the landscape. To watch the sun go down at the end of the day is just as magnificent. The sky explodes into a radiating display of warm colors. But nothing takes the cake like sitting out underneath the stars at night, bathed in the glow of a full moon. It’s moments like these that truly make hiking a damn beautiful thing. While out on the trail, you become part of the natural world. Your heart beats against the backdrop of something bigger, rich and teeming with life. Nothing makes me feel as alive as hiking does.
This is why I love it. And it’s why, no matter what, I’m willing to fight for it. No matter how hard it gets, no matter how burnt out I feel, or how uncomfortable it can be, I hike because it’s mine. I hike because it makes me feel like my truest self. On the Appalachian Trail, when I’m so sore I can’t move, when my feet are all sorts of messed up and it hurts to walk, and when it feels like I’ve reached a mental breaking point, I’ll remember just how much hiking means to me. And I’ll keep going.
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