Redefining Hiking: How It Has Changed Me

Several hours later, I stood atop the mountain feeling an overwhelming amount of exhaustion mixed with my first sense of what clarity means. I was only 16 years old when I embarked on my very first hike; Care to guess where it was?

Why I Hike

Switzerland.

I was in the neighborhood visiting my cousins when one day my aunt made a suggestion that would eventually change my life.

“Let’s all go hiking tomorrow!” She exclaimed.

“Hiking?” I thought. “I come from the flatlands of the drunkest state in America (Wisconsin), what is this ‘hiking’ you speak of?”

Fast forward to the morning of the hike, and I notice a look of dread encompassing my cousin Miky’s face.

“I’m so excited to hike a mountain!” said my naive 16-year-old self.
“Yeah, I was excited once too until I actually climbed one.”
Miky was not enthused.

I can’t remember what the name of the mountain was, but I do remember it was one hell of a trek for a hiking virgin like myself. The entire hike was on a very steep incline and I had to stop many times to catch my breath. I also learned very quickly how important water conservation is, as I drank my only bottle of water within the first 30 minutes of the mountain climb.

The exhaustion was beyond anything I’ve felt before, and I was constantly questioning if I was able to reach the top. I couldn’t understand how people could actually like hiking and it certainly wasn’t a fun way for me to spend a Saturday afternoon.

But those feelings of doubt and fatigue quickly faded when I saw my first view from a mountain. I felt a surprising sense of calm, almost forgetting the pains from the hike. Unbeknownst to me, I had actually experienced my first sense of clarity, a feeling I find great importance in to this day.

Hiking is good for the mind

Here’s a (very) old photo showcasing my photography skills at its finest in Switzerland:

why i hike

I didn’t hike again until I moved to California, but little did I know how that experience would forever define me as a person, and shape the way I think about life.

So let’s get to it; Here are the top five reasons as to why I love hiking, and how it has changed me:

Those Views

Seeing how beautiful the world is from such a high elevation gain is one of my favorite reasons to go hiking at all. It was literally the initial draw for me when I went hiking in Switzerland.

I’ve done plenty of hikes within hills, mountains, and urban/rural areas, and I love seeing the variety of vantage points of Los Angeles; It’s almost like unraveling a hidden truth within this multi-faceted city.

And it’s not only about what lies beyond the hike that I consider beautiful, but what lies above it. Aka, the sky!

Why I Hike

The transition of colors from morning, afternoon, to evening hours is synonymous with a live painting happening right before your eyes, and hikers get the best view of this.

My personal favorite time to go hiking is during the late afternoon hours. Not only is the weather cooler, but you get to witness the transition of the sky in three phases:

  • Bright blue from the high noon sun
  • Orange and pink hues from the sunset
  • Dark grey/pitch black colors which are offset by the sparkling city lights

While the views are nice, I wouldn’t be able to climb high enough to witness these spectacular vantage points without proper…

Exercise

I hate going to the gym. Staring at a blank wall while running in place for an hour is not exactly my cup of fun. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed how much my metabolism has betrayed me; I once had the power to consume an unhealthy amount of food without gaining a single pound, and now I gain a single pound from a cracker.

Basically, exercise has become inevitable for me as I’ve gotten older, so what’s a girl to do when she loathes the gym? Well lucky for me, I live in a hotspot of some of the best hikes in the nation, so I’ve learned to take advantage of seeing the great outdoors while whipping myself in shape.

Now I’m no fitness expert, but it doesn’t take much to understand why hiking is such a great work out; Here are the main two reasons:

  • Resistance Training
    Most hikes are on an incline which means you’re constantly building muscle and toning your body
  • Length of time
    Hikes are generally long, so there’s more incentive to spend a few hours “exercising” out there, which means more calories burned over the long run.

For me, the best part is that hiking doesn’t feel like exercise. I have so much fun exploring the great outdoors that I often forget that I’m working out. Hey, if it beats staring at a blank wall for 2 hours at a smelly gym, then you’ll hear no complaints from me.  Hiking is great exercise!

The Adrenaline Rush

There’s always some form of danger that looms within hikes that people often forget about, and I’m here to share a few short stories to prove it:

Snake Trap in Sycamore Canyon

I’ve dubbed the Sycamore Canyon in Whittier, CA as a snake trap because I see a snake every time I go there. Sure, they are not always in the form of giant pythons but watch out for those “sticks” on the ground that are actually baby snakes. Most of the larger snakes that I’ve found have been either casually crossing a trail or sticking their neck out from the side of the trail. Hikers, be warned.

Here’s a little snippet of a rather large snake I came across:

Getting lost in Murphy Ranch Trail

I was heading back towards the beginning of the Murphy Ranch Trail in Pacific Palisades when my phone battery began draining at an alarming rate. I found myself lost, unable to find a specific trail that would lead me back to my car. With the battery decreasing at a rate of 1%/minute within the pitch black woods, I use the vantage point of a previous photo I took of the trail to find the trail I needed. 2 more minutes in the woods and I would have been forced to camp out for the night, with a dead phone and no water.

Why I Hike

Getting Lost at the Top of Echo Mountain

Being lost during night hikes seem to be a reoccurring theme for me, only this time, I was with my boyfriend Nino. After spending some time exploring the top of the 3000-foot summit in Altadena during the late night hours, we start heading back to the main trailhead to begin our descent. Only, we couldn’t find the specific trailhead needed to go down.

It was just like my time within the Murphy Ranch Trail, except I was on top of a mountain with another person. We were only lost for about 30 minutes before Nino’s brain kicked in and found the trail. Did I mention there was thick fog encompassing the trail, so our light source could only extend about 3 feet in front of us? Yeah, it was kind of scary.

Why I Hike - Mountains

Rock Climbing in Escondido Falls

Escondido Falls in Malibu is a fairly tame hike overall until you get to the waterfall. There are 3 “tiers” associated with the hike; Tier 1 is the base of the waterfall, while Tier 2 and 3 are dangerous rock climbing ascents where you can gain better vantage points of the waterfall. I’m here to heavily emphasize the “dangerous” part because one wrong slip on this nearly vertical climb and you’ll fall to your potential hospital bed. The hike certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, so adrenaline junkies, be warned.

The dinky little waterfall in all of its glory at the base of Tier 1:

Why I Hike - waterfalls

I think you get the idea; I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and hiking provides me a healthy dose of danger that makes me feel so alive.

Sense of Clarity

There’s a beauty I find in the calm after a storm, and this kind of ideology applies well to hiking. You’re in a constant state of struggle as you venture to the top of a climb, with the pain fading quickly when you see those views (kind of like childbirth, I guess. But although I’ve never had a kid, this analogy seems sound).

The sense of calm that overtakes me when I meet mother nature’s gaze has been a profound experience, to say the least. The world is so beautiful and vast, and we as humans seem so small and insignificant in comparison.

I hike for a sense of clarity

This sense of clarity can sometimes lead me to experience a strange outer body experience, almost like a state of hypnosis. As the pain from the hike slowly fades, my mind becomes more weightless; I begin to think and feel everything and nothing at the same time.

I guess this is probably why this is referred to as “Hiker’s High.”

Hiking Reinforces the Phrase “Never Give Up”

This one was a game changer for me. I’ve hiked during really depressing times in my life, and I’m a firm believer that I would not have gotten through said difficult times without callousing my mind.

I wasn’t getting any acting gigs, I got laid off from my job, and I felt so alone in a city that fed off us hopeless romantics. Aka, the struggle is real.

During many of these low points in my life, I was only really hiking for exercise but I soon capitalized on the one thing I never did: Give up.

Actually, I take that back, I did give up once during a climb up a small hill that was really steep (this was within Sycamore Canyon in Whittier, CA). I felt dizzy and nauseous and quickly called it a day, but that moment of turning back around always bothered me; I didn’t want to be that kind of person anymore who gives up when faced with an uphill battle. No…I wanted to be the kind of hiker who can trek any climb, no matter how steep it is.

So what did I do? I kept on hiking over and over again, reinforcing the idea of never giving up when my body feels tired. I didn’t want to just become physically stronger, I set out to callous my mind so that I could carry over that mentality during my daily life.

A few weeks of my “training” pass, and I tackle that same hill in Whittier, plowing to the top like an unstoppable machine. I knew right then and there that I had the power to take on any kind of hike. Since then I’ve tackled the 3000-foot Echo Moutain Summit in Altadena, as well as a plethora of other steep hills within the Los Angeles County. And even though I’m not the fastest hiker around (I tend to take quite a few breaks), I know that eventually, I will make it to the top.

Once I developed this newfound mentality, transitioning it to my daily life became a breeze. It wasn’t just about tackling a challenge anymore, it was about consistently striving for success, no matter how many rocks life threw at me. Before hiking, I capitalized on the dedication aspect of success, when I believe that dedication is only a third of the battle.

It’s not enough to want to be healthier, richer, smarter or any other positive attribute in life. Look at how many people want to get in shape versus how many people consistently put in the time and effort to get themselves in shape. The pursuit of persistence is a primary trait that defines a person; It’s also what separates those who are just dedicated, and those who show dedication and consistency in their life on a daily basis. And that’s what the notion of “Never Give Up” is about: Being 30% dedicated and 70% consistent. (At least, that’s my formula for success).

And to think, I learned all of this through hiking (see you don’t need those self-help books after all)!

Why I Hike
Photo credit: Bonzeus Carranza

 

For me, hiking isn’t just some form of exercise, or as a way to sit and think about life for a few hours. It’s a culmination of all the reasons I listed above; a lifestyle that I’ve set in motion to (hopefully) make me a better person. I’ve learned more life lessons through hiking than I have through school, people, and books; Lessons that have not only shaped me as a person but ones that have redefined my entire perspective on life itself.

This is why I Hike, What are the reasons you hike? Leave your comments below!

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