How Hiking Changed My Life
Guys, I know I talk about hiking a lot on the blog, and maybe that’s not for you. Trust me, I wasn’t much of a “get out in nature” girl from the get-go. I still won’t go camping. Not for any amount of money. I don’t do bugs or snakes or pooping outside.
So there’s definitely part of me that still isn’t, and probably won’t ever be, "that nature girl." Better believe, though, that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, put my head lamp on, and hike 15 miles to see some spectacular views. #worthit
Anyways, I want to chat a little bit about why I’m so obsessed, and where the heck all this came from...and maybeee try and convince you to try it too. Trust me, I’m still a gym rat. Although Covid has changed me into a home gym rat, I still lift weights. I couldn’t imagine life without lifting. In fact, most of my workouts are still CrossFit style, olympic lifting, or bodybuilding in nature. I believe that everyone should lift weights, but that's another topic for another day! Aside from wanting to continue lifting, it wouldn’t be feasible for me to drive 45 minutes or more every day to get in a new hike. However, when the weekend comes around, I get that itch to get outside and explore a new mountain or trail.
All of this started when we spent a couple months in Denver last summer for one of Shawn’s jobs. We were living within 1-2 hours drive from so many incredible hikes, that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get out there and tackle some of them. I saw some of the most jaw-dropping views that I, honestly, had never even imagined. The pictures NEVER do those views justice. You just have to see it to truly feel it. I mean, I climbed up to elevations of 14,000+ feet in the air. It’s simply indescribable. It feels like you can see forever up there.
I won’t lie, when I first got out there, I was intimidated. The extent of my hiking experience amounted to about 2-4 miles at MUCH lower elevation levels. I was pretty fit, and my legs were strong, but I had no clue how I’d feel at the extreme elevations out there, or what it would be like if I tried to hike for much longer periods of time. It was definitely a trial-and-error period of figuring out what I could handle and what I needed in order to be able to go further.
Luckily, we heard about an app called AllTrails, which shows you hikes of all different lengths and difficulties. You can filter for the area nearby or for a specific area you are interested in. You can also set it for a certain distance or difficulty and only look at trails you can handle or distances you have time for that day. We started out with easier hikes, shorter distances, in lower elevations. From there, we gradually moved to higher elevations, keeping the difficulty moderate, the distance on the shorter side. By the end of the summer, we completed Long’s Peak, which was 15 miles of TOUGH terrain, summiting halfway through at 14,000+ feet of elevation.
My advice there is to know your limits. Start easy and build your way into more difficult hikes. Grab a hiking pack that can hold plenty of water and snacks, especially for your longer hikes. I once tried to do an early morning 7 mile hike, without eating breakfast, when I was pretty new to hiking, with zero snacks. Beyond the dizziness and extreme sluggishness I experienced, ya girl does NOT do hangry. I definitely learned my lesson that day. Never again. Show up prepared.
We can also state the obvious here, hiking is a great workout! There were hikes where I literally had to lean forward and use my hands to help myself climb up the mountain. Talk about a leg workout. There was a hike just outside Colorado Springs called the Manitou Incline that was a staircase going straight up the side of a mountain. It was 2,768 stairs up to the top. It was rough, but so rewarding when we finally reached that final step.
That is one of my favorite things about hiking: the reward of “getting to the top” or reaching your destination. We would usually celebrate with a sandwich or some gummy worms, relax, and take it all in.
Hiking also strengthened my relationship with my husband. Most of the time, we lost service on our hikes anyways, but we made it a rule that we would only use our phones to snap a few photos along the way. It’s a breath of fresh air to unplug and not have to worry about our phones for a while. Plus, it meant hours of “just us” time. It gave us time to really talk to each other (IMAGINE!), without any distractions. We talked about everything from future life plans, to what we were eating for dinner that night, and everything in between. It’s almost like forced therapy in a way. Ever since we started hiking, our relationship has been better than ever. I look forward to those moments that we can just enjoy each other’s company with the sole focus of accomplishing that day’s hike. It also creates invaluable memories. We love reliving our hikes through pictures and stories, failures and all!
Beyond its social benefits, there are a number of advantages to overall health to be achieved from getting outdoors. From boosting energy, to improving mood and decreasing anxiety, to providing you with your daily dose of Vitamin D, being outdoors is, all around, good for your health. I feel this sense of calm wash over me each time I start a hike. The freshness of the air, catching glimpses of wildlife in the woods first thing in the morning, and listening to the sounds of the streams, birds, or wind in the background just puts you in a better mood. It’s the world’s most natural stress reliever! I have felt the least amount of stress in my life since beginning to hike on a regular basis. I can also tell a noticeable difference, say in the winter when hikes are few and far between, and the summer when we are on the trails every weekend.
Hiking has absolutely changed my life for the better. In my opinion, it’s one of the simplest ways to get started on your health journey. Start small! You don’t have to go on the longest, most brutal, uphill hike you can find to start off. Go on a 10 minute walk in your neighborhood. If that feels ok, go for 20 minutes next time. Then add in some small, uphill challenges to your route. Gradually work your way up in distance and difficulty. Download the AllTrails app. Search for hikes in your area and within driving distance. Take some weekend trips to get out in nature, explore your area, and reap the limitless rewards from doing so. Try a short hike this weekend, and focus on how you feel during and after. Let me know how it goes, and if it leads to another! Warning: it’s addicting!