I never used to be such an outdoorsy person. And by this I mean, to actually appreciate being out there, in the nature. Growing up in Africa, greenery surroundings and waterfalls were just things that I took for granted, as if they were part of the furniture. As a little girl, I used to visit my grandparents in Moshi, in a village called Marangu, where you could climb Mt Kilimanjaro. I remember the hurdle of going to church on Sundays, which involved navigating hills and some streams before reaching the church. In reflection, I did all this since it was the only way of getting from A to B, and therefore never actually paused to appreciate the beauty around us.
My perceptions turned 180 degrees when I met my husband. To this date, I still I remember vividly our first hike in Scotland. As soon as we started the ascend and reached a few meters high, I sat down, facing the good side (back down to earth that is) and protested ‘no I can’t do this!’ I felt scared, in danger, out of control and I quickly invented a fear of heights. I am actually referring to that photo below. Anyway, with a few encouraging words I agreed to get up and continue. When I reached the top, that was the turning point for me, the feeling was absolutely magical. As they say, the rest is history. I always look forward to the next hike, and here is why:
1. Uplifting mood
You can not help it but feel absolutely energised when you are out there in the nature. And when one reaches the summit, those lyrics you hear about being ‘on top of the world’ actually become a real feeling, not just some mere words. Hiking allows you to declutter your mind and really be inline with your thoughts. I would argue that it definitely lowers stress. I’ve always come back from a hike feeling energised and ready to face the week ahead.
2. Boost fitness
I like to think of hiking as a 3 for 1 deal. You work the body, mind and spirit in one activity. When hiking, one partakes in an activity that challenges the whole body, mentally and physically. In addition to channeling a positive and healthy mind, the body is also put to its pace by exercising the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system. I can definitely testify that my little heart is put to a challenge when I walk my way up the heel. As for my legs, one can not ignore the pulling on the legs and glutes – so if you want a perky firm bum, perhaps it’s a sport for you. Hiking is also fantastic for building bone density. This is great news for us women as we tend to suffer from weak bones as we get older.
3. A sport for all
Men and women, young and small. It can be an activity for families, couples, friends or perhaps a team building exercise. In our modern fast paced life that we lead, finding some quality time to spend with families and friends can be a bit of a challenge and so an activity like this which is open to all, could be an opportunity not to miss.
4. Healthy relationships
Hiking is an activity where you can spend some really quality time with loved ones. Just being out there in mother nature, no Blackberry, Facebook, Instagram and what have you. This newly found freedom in the nature really allows one to open up and really have a good chat. My husband has learnt that when it comes to discussing things on a deeper level, a good long walk in the forest always works like a charm.
5. A great escape
If you happen to work in a busy city, full of pollution of all sorts including noise, fuel fumes etcetera, once you reach that hiking spot, you swiftly leave all your troubles behind. What is left is just yourself and the sounds of nature.
6. Sleep like a baby
I’ve always managed to sleep like a baby after a hike. As a light sleeper, I can definitely remark a huge difference. Since sleep is so crucial in our normal biological functions, what more could one ask for?
7. New encounters
It can be an occasion to meet people with similar interests and share some great expreriences. We did just so today as we were hiking in the Pyrenees. It was so great to share some tips and enjoy the walk together, and for me as always, an opportunity to learn some more French.
What to consider before hiking
As for every activity, one needs to be dressed for the occasion. And for sporting activities, this is rather a necessity. We gain so much protection from what we choose to put on our bodies.
- Hiking Boots – I can not insist enough about how crucial they are. Don’t skimp on this, get proper hiking boots. If you wear any random trainers, you might not be able to navigate a rough terrain. Expect anything rough that you might find in the nature, from loose rocks to flowing streams. Be sure that the boots are properly fitted when you buy them. If the boots are too tight, you might end up with blisters, too loose and you may suffer when descending as your weight pushes forward.
- Clothing – You will be grateful for investing in a good pair of trekking trousers, weather dependent of course. Trousers need to be loose enough to allow for a good range of motion, think of those big steps when navigating the way up. Also dress in layers. It will be useful to wear materials which absorb sweat and therefore your body stays dry. A good windbreaker is also a necessity. You can always shed off the extra layers if you get too warm. Equally important is a good sports bra. A pair of hiking socks won’t be a bad idea neither as they especially made to help combat blisters. And depending on preference, some people wear some talcum powder, which absorbs moisture and eases the uncomfortable feeling from rubbing legs or whatever parts which are prone to friction.
- Hat/Sunglasses/Neck scarf – All weather dependent of course. In general, try to start early so that you are not at the summit when there is little protection from direct sun (assuming there are no no trees up there for some shades) so start early and finish early enough. On the other end of the spectrum, it might get brutally cold and windy so a scarf will help protect your ears and neck.
- Backpack – You might want to pack some essentials such as sun lotion, water, snacks or a light lunch. Perhaps consider foods which will withstand high heat if hiking in summer – so I would rather avoid salmon for example. But all in all, avoid carrying unnecessary items. Consider photocopying a page of a book rather than carrying the heavy bugger! Aaaand, consider being kind to the environment. Please bring your rubbish back with you and dispose of it in a suitable manner.
- Map/GPS/Apps – Technology wouldn’t hurt out there. Perhaps we are not all Boy Scouts and so we can get lost in the forest. How about investing in a good GPS App? Check the map before leaving, does it have trackable routes? With numbers/colours? We fell for a map once which did not have good signs, it was a nightmare to find our trail.
Planning ahead helps a lot. Do you want a long/ short walk? Perhaps you are in a mood for a short morning walk, followed by relaxed lunch at a village cafe. Better yet, spend the afternoon enjoying the local merchandise on your way back home? In French towns this could be the case. You set-off aiming for a hike but go home with a discovery of the best wine ever.
- Hiking Buddy – It’s very unwise to hike alone. One can’t predict mother nature. Imagine if one slips and takes a plunge, you will need someone to call for help. Tell your family/friends where you are. Also say hello to fellow walkers out there. You never know who might come to your rescue when needed.
- Slowly but surely – If you have never hiked before, it would be a good idea to start slowly. Test the waters. You need to be comfortable in your own skin. It’s not a race. You know your own body and what feels right. There is a wealth of information out there about hiking. There are a lot of clubs too. So it’s worth checking out what is around you.
In my 5 years of hiking, I’ve certainly had some challenges but never a bad hike. I had a wonderful hike in Scotland, The Lake District and Bavaria where my other half comes from. To this date, I hold special memories from my hike in Sapa, Vietnam, where we had some spectacular rice padding views and an endless of local audience with happy faces and every intention of making a sale, so adorable. In the South near Saigon, we once attempted to chase the sunrise but the big guy was too shy for the foreigners’ eyes. Another failed attempt to watch the sunrise was in Bali last year, where we got up at 1:00am to start the ascend at 4:00am but the sun was completely covered in clouds. The race continues in France where we live. I’ll leave you with a few pictures but some are quite old too and there is no editing done, I prefer them all natural.
So all things considered, I absolutely think that hiking is such a healthy activity and t’s good for the body mind and soul.
Do you also hike? I’d love to hear about your own experiences.