3 Things I Learned from Hiking
I love nature but I don’t hike frequently.
While I thoroughly enjoy it, I didn’t grow up with “exploring the outdoors” as a common family activity. Even now, I usually won’t initiate going for a hike, but I love to tag along with others.
Recently, I went on a couple of hikes when some friends came into town and I loved it! We explored the Hot Springs Canyon Trail and Escondido Falls Trail. Here are three things I learned along the way:
1. Hiking is very white.
As we hiked these trails, it was clear that most of the kind hikers we passed were not people of color. As a person of color, this wasn’t surprising but it was still jarring.
I recalled an essay I read last year about Rahawa Haile, a queer black woman, hiking the Appalachian Trail. She details how a hiker she met was relieved to find out she was African, not “black-black” because “[b]lacks don’t hike.” This was but one experience of many during her adventure. Then there is the story of Jenna Yokoyama, a Japanese-American who experienced racism hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. On a quest to find out if a hike in Idaho was safe for people of color, she created a Facebook group for hikers of color and invited others to join her on hikes. While she garnered much support, she also received pointed criticism for being exclusive and divisive when her biggest (valid) concern was safety.
I was happy to see the Brown People Camping Instagram account grow exponentially with the urgency to diversify our public lands. I hope this happens, but racial divides also contribute to a lack of access getting to different trails without a car or having proper hiking gear, on top of fear for one’s safety. I feel safer hiking in California but not necessarily “safe”, especially if I am alone or with other brown people. Naturally, I worry about hiking in a more politically conservative state.
This is a reality, and while I met so many friendly people during these hikes, this isn’t always the case.
2. Obstacles get easier.
I was eager to check out Escondido Falls given the recent rainfall in LA. But, I didn’t anticipate the obstacles that came along the way — specifically the stream that resulted from the waterfall. Yes, feel free to laugh at this obvious occurrence, I’m clearly a hiking noob.
There were four spots my friends and I had to traverse either by attempting a long jump or balance beaming across piles of unstable branches. After the first stream, I hoped there would be no more, and, if there were, I worried they would become wider or more difficult.
But we made it! We scoped out different spots to jump and/or bounce and/or trot across, though I fretted about the journey back. Would it be as stressful?
The flowing falls were totally worth it and I thanked my hip flexors for the journey.
On the way back, the streams were suddenly less wide, my fear was drastically reduced, and my strides were more graceful. We jumped with delight across the stream and cared less about our feet getting soaked. I realized that anxiety is not logical. It holds on to the past and invades the present, never trusting what is around the corner. In this case, my past successes told me I could cross these obstacles but my fear and anxiety told me I couldn’t.
After we laughed our way back, I realized I could apply this lesson to many parts of life including confronting conflict at work or with friends and family. Instead of fearing what may or may not happen, I can harness strategies from previous experiences with these situations or people and trust that conflict will resolve one way or another. And if it doesn’t, anxiety was never going to help. But logic doesn’t always “fix” emotional barriers, so it’s critical to be compassionate with ourselves. Anxiety comes from a valid place and it serves us to acknowledge this feeling.
3. I should stretch more.
I’m not super athletic, nor did I stretch before either of these hikes. I’m in my late thirties, and I’m starting to feel aches and pains that never quite existed before.
After climbing 74 floors and walking almost 20,000 steps with flat feet during these hikes, I walked into work the next day sensing muscles on my shins and hips that had been dormant for some time. The excitement of going for a hike and being outdoorsy exceeded my physical capacity. I figured I would be getting plenty of exercise during the hikes, so who needs to do anything before the hikes? Oops.
So to honor these forgotten muscles, here are some helpful stretching videos:
These lessons may seem unrelated but I now see how they are connected. I always try to ground myself by examining society, especially through the lens of human disparities. But it’s also important to be aware of psychological and physical limitations. Our daily experiences are never just about one thing.
So take a look around, take a look inside, and take a long butterfly stretch.