This past weekend, my fiancé and I went hiking along the Oregon coast (a.k.a. my home away from home). For many people (myself included), hiking is more than just an outing or a way to get exercise. If you let it, a hike can be a spiritually rich experience. Although I’ve never really considered hiking one of my hobbies, and I don’t have serious “hiking gear,” unless you count a pair of old running shoes, I’m really starting to crave this activity. Here are just five reasons why you should “take a hike” whenever you get the chance (plus a few of my favorite West Coast hiking destinations!).
1. A hike can help you gain perspective. When we lived in Eugene, we loved hiking Spencer’s Butte. During the time, I was in a somewhat stressful graduate program. It was easy to feel overwhelmed by classwork and department drama. Sometimes it seemed like my only focus was making sure I didn’t fall off the “treadmill” of papers, reading assignments, etc.
Once I’d reach the top of Spencer’s Butte, I could see the city below—including campus! It was no bigger than my thumb. To my left, I could see open fields for miles, reminding me that there was so much to the world!
Not every hike offers that kind of physical perspective, of course, but I find that simply travelling to a hiking destination (even in your own city) can ease the intense focus on work, school, and the mundane tasks of everyday life. Hike with an open heart—allow your outdoor adventure to carry you to a new mindset.
2. A hike takes you outdoors—pure and simple. Nothing can revive your soul like extended exposure to nature and fresh air. We often think of hiking as a means to reach a particularly awesome viewpoint, but it’s so enriching to be present during the hike itself. I’m often joyed by the little things I notice—as much as I am by the ultimate view. Notice flora around you—how has the season shaped the landscape? Breathe deeply. Consider the beauty of sharing air with every living being around you.
3. Hiking can take you out of your comfort zone. A few years ago, my fiancé and I hiked Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in the U.S. All together, the hike took about eight hours. Needless to say, it was a stretch for my physical endurance and tolerance of heights! There were times when I just wanted to be back in the hotel room with a hot cup of tea. After we reached the bottom, however, I didn’t regret one moment of the hike. Although my calves were killing me, I felt incredibly strong.
4. Hiking often turns into a spiritual exercise. On our most recent hike to Cascade Head, I felt a parallelism between what seemed like an endless climb and my current life/career situation. The weather was beautiful, and although I was getting fatigued, I felt spiritually empowered to take one step after another. I kept thinking: this is a lot like being a writer—there’s always more labor ahead (and always some uncertainty), but with each piece of writing I put out into the world, I grow, little by little. So as I marched onward, I not only thought about my strong but achy muscles, I also thought about my ever-strengthening will and desire to become a braver person and writer.
5. Finally, hiking is a wonderfully oxygenating cardio and strength-building exercise. Constantly using your larger leg muscles really gets your blood pumping. Hiking can increase your endurance and serve as a great complement to your running routine. Additionally, if your hike involves much incline, you’re in for a terrific glute and quad workout. When I hike, I definitely “feel the burn” in these areas, and borrowing a principal from yoga, I like to breathe deeply into them. Aside from feeling stronger, I also feel cleansed and rejuvenated.
Related: Nature Therapy: What is “Earthing”?
Also by Mary: Self-Love – Are You Giving Enough to Yourself?
Photos: SpencersButte.com, Mary Hood, Wikipedia, Mary Hood