I can’t stress enough how important it is to get outside. The outdoors does wonders for your mental and physical health. Lately, I’ve been using my free time to reflect, work on my physical health, and ruminate on plans for the future by hiking with my brother’s dog.
Hiking has always been a huge part of my life. As a little kid, we used to hike through three feet of snow (that would come up to my thighs) for miles in the woods. I knew all the tricks to getting my feet to stay awake, warm up my hands, and keep going. The main trick every time (even when it’s not cold and snowy) is to keep moving.
You keep moving when your heart beats a little too fast for comfort. You keep moving when it rains, when you’re cold, and when your body starts hurting. You keep moving because you have to.
I’ve been bouncing around lately, doing small jobs while I look for a “big” job, trying to use my time in the best way possible. It’s like every day is a mental health day. Every day is there to give myself something good. I’m writing, reading, and challenging myself to completing a 2 month ketogenic diet for the second year in a row. I’ve also given myself the challenge of hiking every conservation area in my county.
It’s not a huge challenge. I’ll probably complete it in a week. Each spot averages around 2-3 miles of trails and there are 10 of them. I wanted to challenge myself to do something I love that is good for me and hang out with my brother’s East German Shepherd in the process. We’re both bored and unemployed, but instead of Boots (the dog in question) hanging out at my grandma’s house doing nothing but barking at the chickens, he’s going on hikes with me.
Today, we crossed off our 3rd and 4th spots by hiking through a meadow into a deciduous forest. We picked and ate raspberries, ran across streams, and climbed up steep hills. Considering it was a weekday morning, no one else was there but us. It was awesome.
Besides talking to Boots, much of my mental capacity consisted of thinking. Every time I hike, my internal thoughts shift from its usually negativity (which is easing up, I must say) to full-blown positivity and fantasy. I imagined that Boots and I were cave person and dog, living pre-technology and pre-“society.” We had met years ago and Boots chose us to be his family. We worked together to catch food and hung out as friends, as family. We get along and communicate as if we were the same species.
I took this fantasy and ran with it, literally, since Boots wanted to run so much. Why does he love running in the forest and how does he run so fast (minus the 4 leg thing), how can he dodge branches and rocks with such finesse? I decided to try it. Heck, I was made to navigate these woods too. I am wild, just like him, by nature.
I was careful, though, since I used to run trails all the time and about 10 years ago I had sprained my ankle pretty badly in the middle of the woods, needing to limp back to camp, which took me a good couple of hours. No sprained ankles this time.
It felt awesome. We ran the fastest I had ever ran in a forest, taking turns as the lead. He obviously ran faster, but would slow down for me so we could run together at the same pace. It was fun, it was weird, and yet totally natural and I didn’t know why it felt weird at all. We were cave people, were we not? We did this. We used to run from predators and climb trees and forage for raspberries. Why don’t we do that anymore?
I want to run, I want to climb, and I want to get rid of the notion that being myself, my true undisturbed id, is strange. In reality, this is the true normal. This is how we were meant to live, so why don’t we go back? Indulging in my fantasies, I would love to create an adult playground – an area to climb and mess around in the woods. It would have nets, hammocks, climbing holds on trees, and trapezes. We could use our bodies in ways that isn’t just lifting weights for the sake of working out, but using our bodies for fun, like we used to do as kids. That’s kind of what hiking and skiing are like to me, too.
Somehow, even though hiking is literally just walking around in mostly undisturbed nature, it brings a ton of mental clarity. The goal of reaching the summit to see a gorgeous view or running a loop without giving up. Just being there is an accomplishment. Just having a goal, even, but completing it? That’s amazing.
If you feel like you have nothing in your life (even if you do), hiking can bring your life meaning. Try it out. Get outside.