hiking: exercise, experience…or both?

My recent act of stupidity on the Trail Canyon hike got me thinking.

Why is it that I try to race up to the summit when I hike? I read the guidebooks and reviews, and note their suggested completion time. And my immediate thought is, “As far as I’m concerned, that’s just the time to beat!”.

Instead of listening to my body and taking note of my racing heart rate, a sure sign that I’ve gone into an anaerobic state, and therefore am no longer in the [ideal] fat-burning zone, I press on, determined to finish first. Fastest.

And, of course, in less time than the experts said it would take. That’s a given.

Hiking is an absolute joy in my life. I get so much more out of it than just the physical benefits of this form of exercise.

When I do shorter [read: easier] hikes, I actually find that I go slower, taking in my surroundings, and allowing my mind to explore nagging questions or problems I’m trying to work through. And I genuinely feel that sense of connectedness to the universe the entire time I’m hiking. Not just at the mountain top after a gruelling race to the finish.

Perhaps it’s because I view an easier trail as a fun outing, and not my total workout for the day, and therefore there is less pressure to make it a crazy sweat session.

So, if this is the case, how can I be more mindful of hiking-as-exercise versus hiking-for-the-experience? Or… can it be both?

Many months ago, the hiking program coordinator at BLR Fitness Ridge in Malibu, TJ, and I exchanged a few emails about her upcoming trip to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in January, a trip she was trying to convince me to join. I had asked TJ about climbs that would help prep for that type of experience, and I specifically noted Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in California, and a bucket list item for me.

I knew TJ had climbed Whitney, and I asked her whether she had done it as a day trip, or overnighted it. I knew others who had climbed and descended in the same day, and – of course – that seemed the gold standard to me. I wanted to know if she thought that was a realistic goal for me.

This is how she responded:

“Here is the thing about hiking…people do Whitney in a day. It can be done like our last day at Gorgonio…it depends on what you want out of the trip. I like to stop and take pictures and enjoy things a bit so when I can choose to do an overnighter on a trip that could be done as a day trip, I choose the one that lets me enjoy it a bit more. When I made it to the top of Mt Whitney, I spent an hour and a half up there! I was alone for at least 30 minutes of it so I was very happy to have that extra time to soak in the experience. Some people like to make it a grind, time themselves and push hard….that’s cool too but there is nothing like pushing yourself to the limit while still leaving yourself time to enjoy the journey along the way.”

TJ sent this to me on June 4th. Why has it taken me so long to see the pure gold in her words?

Her message about soaking in the experience, about pushing yourself to the limit while still leaving time to enjoy the journey… absolutely brilliant.

The truth is that when you’re hiking a trail with elevation gains of 1,000′, 2,000′ or more, you are getting a kick-ass workout. Plain and simple. Whether you complete it in 90 minutes or 3 hours, it’s still a killer accomplishment. Allowing yourself enough time to soak in your surroundings while climbing doesn’t take away from the calorie burn, and it certainly adds to the experience.

It’s time for me to shift my thinking away from the need to beat a suggested time, or to come in first, and instead embrace the journey that hiking provides to me. Physically, mentally and spiritually.

In other words, I need to remember why it is I love hiking so much.

Thanks to TJ’s simple yet profound words, I’m a little closer to knowing what it is I need to do. It’s possible for me to continue to climb higher, experience more, and grow. And I can achieve all of those things without going so fast that I lose sight of my surroundings.

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Get moving!

xoxo nancy

15 thoughts on “hiking: exercise, experience…or both?

  1. this is so true 🙂

    it is really important to remember that we are doing things because we enjoy them as well as for the fitness benefits 🙂 it is lucky when a favorite hobby is also advantageous to health 🙂
    to be honest, if you are walking up a great big mountain, it is always going to be a good work out 😀
    (but I can also see the appeal of beating the average or your last time 🙂 )

    • Yep Sam, a killer workout regardless, and better for fat-burning goals if you maintain a heart rate of 140-150 bpm (versus the 180+ that I was running at during that last act of stupidity).

      When I do Mary Jane Falls, I do see it as a race to the top because I’ve done it many times before, and know the trail like the back of my hand. I do that one to push my limits. The key is knowing when to approach a hike like that versus taking in the full experience of a brand new trail. I’m learning…it’s a process. 🙂

      • 😀 I think, as you say, as long as you know when to push it then it will be ok.
        Learning is good 🙂 never trying these things out and never moving forward is dull and leads to very little change 🙂

  2. “there is nothing like pushing yourself to the limit while still leaving yourself time to enjoy the journey along the way.”—So true of anything in life, really. Insightful words.

    • I know, right? And the idea that I had seen those words back in early June and they didn’t register until 4+ months later… shame on me. I think at that point I was just too focused on getting better (faster, stronger…) that I shut out any [albeit sound] advice that took away from the master plan to just keep pushing harder. I’m so glad I have finally re-read and internalized her words. And all it took was a near collapse up Trail Canyon. :-S

  3. I think it is harder to savor an experience, especially in our competitive, no-attention-span world, than it is to rush through and check a box. It takes time to build something, be it a body, a skill or a relationship.

  4. Pingback: a grateful nancy is a happy nancy | my year of sweat!

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