Go Take a Hike?!

personal growth Oct 19, 2021

                “Go take a hike!” wasn’t a friendly invitation when I was growing up.

More like, “Get outta’ my face.” “I don’t like you.” Or “Shut up!”

                But today, being national “Take Your Pants for a Walk” day, I mean this in kindness and with genuine good wishes! While I can’t stroll alongside you literally, I’ll join you in spirit.

                Why walk? It’s actually pretty fascinating what putting one foot in front of the other does for people and what people do for it!

                Consider the connection between this ancient mode of transportation and cultural development. Before planes, trains, and automobiles; even before horses, donkeys, and elephants, foot-powered locomotion brought people together physically. Sure, an individual could meander alone, but even then, you still saw others. From head to foot. You took in their height, clothing, and demeanor. You noticed if they were by themselves, with a companion, or in a group. Whether or not they were carrying items.

                Walking meant you were more likely to acknowledge someone else’s presence. Even if this meant turning or running away. A nod, tip of the hat, smile, kiss, handshake, salute, or wave – even when unaccompanied by words – fostered awareness of others as human beings, not merely objects with lungs.

                Feet, however, had their limitations. People gazed across rivers, lakes, and seas, and wondered what was on the other side or “out there.” So came rafts, canoes, boats, and ships. In spite of these crafts leaving you at the mercy of winds and tides, or perhaps because of this, folks were connected. Rowing, steering, navigating, hoisting sails, hauling anchor, jettisoning cargo: all required cooperation. Admiration wasn’t required; but mutual respect was.

                Large land mammals – think donkeys, horses, and elephants; not lions, tigers, and bears -- once tamed and trained, sped up movement considerably. But at what cost to connection? Now a person could zip right past fellow travelers, demanding the right of way. And looking down on others was no longer metaphorical. There were, of course, benefits: animals could pull skids, wagons, and plows. Families didn’t have to wait for years to receive news from “back home.” Messages could be sent quickly when farms, villages, or cities were under threat of siege. Still, everything couldn’t be accomplished perched on tops of animal’s backs, so plodding wasn’t “exercise;” it was life.

                Eventually trains came. People didn’t traipse less; they just traveled more. Then came the open-air automobile. Drivers and passengers could zip right past homes, farms, stores, people on horseback or on foot, and never even acknowledge them. Eventually, however, the motorcar had to stop – to fuel the engine or the occupants – and the windowless design invited an association with those nearby. If not an actual conversation, at least a visual inspection – of both the apparatus and its inhabitants. People’s strides lessened.

                Then came windows. Now people could move between places and never be clearly and fully seen. Just a head, maybe shoulders, a hand or two on the steering wheel. The seclusion was complete. Other than a horn, hand, or finger, communication between fellow commuters ceased. I wonder if there’s a correlation between how much we value people and how much we can see of them. But I digress. Steps became a brief interval on the way to transportation.

Walking, as exercise, was born.

The health benefits are bountiful! Here are just a few:

  1. Curbs cravings. Yep, you may be able to out-shuffle the cookie monster! Even a 15 minute stroll can reduce the longing for sugary treats and chocolate temptations.
  2. Protects knees and hips. By lubricating these joints and strengthening the muscles which support them, osteoarthritis is less likely.
  3. Strengthens the immune system. Who couldn’t use that with Covid viruses still circling the globe, in “new & improved” forms?!
  4. Boosts your energy and your mood. Angry? Upset? Try trekking for ten minutes instead of counting to ten. Discouraged? Hit the trail and you’ll release “happy” hormones into your body. While these won’t change circumstances, they can change outlook.
  5. Inspires creativity. Have a problem to solve? Get away from the computer or conference room and go wander. Preferably through nature! Research consistently demonstrates “aha” moments come when we’ve occupied our mind and body on something besides the issue we’re facing.
  6. Increases heart and lung fitness. Decreases risk of stroke and heart disease. Improves diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and balance.
  7. Burns calories, tones leg muscles, and betters posture.

In short, hoofing it doesn’t guarantee a long and robust life, but it seriously increases the odds.

                What people do by tread is pretty amazing also. No, tramping across the country Forest Gump style isn’t the only trekking which counts. How many charities, however, owe their ability to serve to soles? Walk-a-thons may not be today’s go-to fundraiser, but steps have purchased many meals for those whose hearts were down-trodden.

                Hiking, like camping, opens the curtains surrounding a person’s character. Want to know how resilient, empathetic, grateful, reliable, pleasant, and all around good-natured you (or someone else) is? Trudge down a trail. With a backpack. Sufficient, but limited supplies. You’ll be awed (think a gorgeous quilt of petite wildflowers stitched together with silky lichen) and annoyed (think a ghastly horde of impertinent mosquitos resolute in their vampirish aims). But your greatest discoveries may lie inside.

                From Bill Bryson’s adventure on the Appalachian Trail to the Civil Right’s campaign on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to the 240 mile sojourn of Mahatma Gandhi and followers on the Salt March to the Arabian Sea, walking, while hard on the sole, still proves good for the soul.



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