Hey You — Get Outdoors and Go Hiking!
Before I met Mr. Nerd, I didn't go on hikes, I never went camping, and I had zero girl scout skills. My sense of direction was shoddy at best (which way is north again?), and I couldn't tell the difference between poison ivy and a blueberry bush.
Yeah, I was that hopeless.
Mr. Nerd, on the other hand, grew up in the woods. He spent several years in Boy Scouts—I now affectionately refer to him as Boy Scout Ben—and learned how to pitch tents, start fires, rummage for food, hunt animals, create shelters, filter river water for drinking... You know, all that good stuff.
When we met, Ben decided he was going to woo me by asking me out on a hike. I was completely freaked out by the idea and didn't think it would end well. I'm probably the world's clumsiest person. Give me a glass of water, and I'll spill it. Give me a perfectly straight path, and I'll still manage to trip.
Then, of course, there were gangs of #thuglife geese at this park, the paths were muddy from the spring thaw, and all I was wearing was a knee-length skirt and some flip flops. By the end of our date, my feet were covered in dirt—and I was sooooo done with hiking.
Yet somehow, despite our different views on the outdoor world, Ben took me under his tutelage and started to train me in the ways of wildlife. I learned how to use a compass and treat blisters. Ben surprised me with some amazing hiking shoes (I think he got tired of my flip flop fashion statement) and helped me break them in. He took me up to Duluth frequently and taught me how to prepare for all climates and weather changes.
Slowly, hiking became a part of our life and a part of our relationship. It's changed us, together and individually, in ways I can't begin to explain. But it has. I went from a girl who hated the outdoors to a girl who embraces the outdoors.
And here's why you should do the same.
Hiking gives you intense, crazy exercise
Not even joking. Hiking may seem easy, but it keeps your body moving for hours. Depending on where you hike, you might climb up and down hills, tread carefully over snow and ice, jump over logs, scale rocks and small cliffs... for anywhere between 1 to 15 miles.
The amount of exercise you get doing this is incredible. Your legs get stronger, your heart rate rises (basic cardio!), and if you're carrying supplies, your shoulders and back muscles work to support you and your pack. Three miles of climbing hills and cliffs at a decent pace (say 25 minute miles) can burn around 500-700 calories alone.
Yes, seriously. Our 9.5 mile hike last week burned 2000 calories. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the difficulty, pace, and varying elevation of your hike.
I personally use hiking as my form of exercise (Ben, meanwhile, both hikes and weight trains) and no longer have a gym membership. This is a recent change, but my goal is to hike 25-30 miles a week. I'm excited to retire my Netflix obsession, get my butt off the couch, and see some results!
Hiking allows you to commune with nature
Hiking is probably one of the best ways to surround yourself with nature ... and then get lost in it. The act of hiking takes you places that are beautiful and secluded. It cuts you off from the stressful parts of life: the noise of crowds, cars, and sirens; the claustrophobia of buildings; the constant yammering of work life, home life, and friends; the attention-sucking media of Netflix, text messages, and Facebook.
The longer you hike, the quieter it gets. The filters that built up in your head to organize the constant flow of noise drop away, and suddenly you can hear your thoughts again. Things become more noticeable. A twig snaps under the weight of a deer's hooves. A gust of wind sings through the leaves above your head.
Not only are you surrounded by peace and calm, hiking gives you a chance to see all sorts of different animals in their natural, fearless habitat. What used to be the flash of a doe's white tail as you drive on the road becomes a full sighting for several seconds—maybe even minutes depending on how quiet your footsteps are.
Last weekend, we went hiking and managed to spot a coyote. Neither of us had seen one in the wild before. We watched, frozen in silence, as it trotted along the path ahead of us and disappeared around the bend. It was an amazing experience.
Hiking shows you some amazing sights
One of the great things about hiking is that you see a variety of different landscapes depending on where you decide to hike. It's not all trees and muddy paths, I promise. Instead, you might see anything from waterfalls and giant boulders to towering cliffs, beautiful sunsets, and glassy lakes.
Don't believe me? Here are some of the sights we've come across on our hikes:
Hiking lets you discover your own strength and resourcefulness
When you're out hiking, it's just you, your backpack, and nature. The comforts of home have been stripped down to the basics (which, in our opinion, is very refreshing). You don't have a toilet, a comfortable bed, or a fridge full of food. All you have is your wits and the earth.
Here are some things we've learned about our strength and resourcefulness while out hiking:
* When you gotta go to the bathroom, you gotta go. There aren't any porter potties in nature! It might feel awkward at first, but as long as you bring some tissues or baby wipes in your backpack, you'll be fine. (Just make sure to follow Leave No Trace principles, which means don't leave it for someone to step in and don't leave tissue papers or napkins lying on the ground).
* Pocket knives have so many uses. We've used ours to cut sausages and cheese for lunch, whittle sticks, open tough packages (mainly plastic food wrappings), dig rocks and mud out of the bottom of our shoes, and more.
* Getting dirty is part of the experience. One of the things I initially disliked about hiking was the grime and dirt involved. You get sweaty and dusty... Just generally gross. What I came to realize, though, was that getting dirty is necessary. In fact, sometimes dirt is good for the soul! When I pushed past my discomfort, I found myself opening up to a wider variety of experiences. Sliding down an ice hill on my butt? No problem! Splashing muddy water on my hands and arms to cool me down? Awesome! Toeing animal scat to guess what sort of animal might be nearby (like a bear)? Why not! By letting go of the need for a hot shower and hand sanitizer, I learned how to embrace nature in a new way.
* Using a walking stick is the only way to go. It gives you balance and helps you navigate the sometimes bumpy, winding trails. If you pick the right one, it'll last you an entire hike (and more). We always use ours and then leave them at trailheads for other hikers to find.
At the end of the day, hiking is worth the effort
Why? Because hiking is a very meditative experience. It's not the same for everyone; it's different for each person each time.
It shows you parts of the world (and parts of yourself) that you might not have discovered otherwise. It gives you a mirror and asks you to reflect upon everything you know ... and then challenges or strengthens your mind, your worldview, and your physical being.
Just like it challenged me to reconsider my stance on hiking. See? There's hope for me yet.