Until very recently, I was not a girl who hikes. I was a runner and a yogi, activities that fit easily between drop-off and pick-up, around work schedules and naps. Hiking does not fit easily. It takes up room. It requires planning and packing, maps and mountains. It requires gear, appropriate gear for the conditions as I, painfully, learned prior to purchasing crampons (and you can just eff off right now YakTraks because NOT the same thing).
I started hiking this past fall. I read a book about anxiety and the author suggested that anxious people need to plod more, run less, and to do so in big, quiet spaces, with more trees and less other people. While I did not love all of the book, I will forever be thankful for the part about hiking, because she was totally right. Hiking gets me. It takes me out of my ordinary life, kicks my ass, and sends me home feeling calmish and more capable of doing All the Things Needing to Be Done.
At first, I thought hikes would be a time to think big thoughts, answer hard questions, sort myself out into a nice little bento box of wants and needs and goals and plans. Trying to do these things will hiking is the worst idea ever. Spending four hours in my own head attempting to sort out all my shit is the seventh, or eighth, level of Dante’s hell. Hikes are for doing the opposite of this. Hikes are like meditating the right way.
This past January, I went on a yoga and meditation retreat where I learned that everything I thought about meditation was wrong, which was very helpful and worth the price of admission. I thought meditation involved solitary, silent, furious focus on finding the damn answer to the big life question. Turns out meditation is the pre-funk.
Meditation is the often, but not necessarily, solitary and silent focus on bringing yourself back to yourself, back to the breath at your center; literally, the goal is to breath in and breath out and to notice the inhale and the exhale and to not get distracted (for too long) by anything else. In my experience, it is basically impossible. Still, I try. Because if you can get to that place at the center of you, THEN you can stand there (or sit in a lovely lotus position that defies physics and my hips) and ask the big life question and, possibly, give yourself a wise answer. This is like hiking the right way.
First, you get all your gear: your map, your water, you bars, your gators (for the two feet of snow), your crampons (NOT YakTraks), your poles (again snow), sunscreen, hat, gloves, phone, small plastic bag with toilet paper, etc. Then, you drive to the mountains. There, you lace up your boots and you go.
You go for as many hours as you can possibly squeeze into your insanely busy schedule. If your me, you go hard, because the faster and steeper the terrain, the less able I am to have a chat with myself about whether returning to work part-time will provide sufficient personal fullfillment to outweigh the shitstorm that will rain down on our family of five as a result of the change in my schedule and flexibility.
Instead, I breath, I count steps, I try not to kill myself but catching a toe on every third rock. Sometimes, I chant a mantra I learned at the yoga retreat. It’s sanskrit so it doesn’t have obvious meaning, although I know what it means. It’s more like humming, or singing the chorous to a song over and over again. It helps me not focus on anything else.
Generally, it takes me at least an hour to settle in and just hike. Of course, my mind keeps jumping around, waiving its hand furiously like a small child who really needs to tell you something. But somewhere between my boots hitting the ground and around the fifth mile mark, the inhale and the exhale become the primary acoustic. I start to lose the busy, anxious, just-fucking-hold-it-together me and find the me me. The me whose existence pre-dates kids, husband, career, college, medication, diagnoses, Amazon, cars with CD players. The old-school me with nothing but time and myself to take care of.
This is the me I trust to provide the wise answer (except with regards to cigarettes, hair color, and boys). And though it doesn’t happen everytime, when the answer does come it feels like magic. Like I have succeeded in pulling a rabbit out of a hat I didn’t even know I had. And that is why I have become a girl who hikes.
Me at the top of a very tall hill (9700 ft but can’t say moutain, because Colorado).