*N.B. This post was originally written during the height of the COVID pandemic and modified to the present*
I used to have an affinity for the outdoors, but as time passed and my life got busier, I became less and less inclined to experience nature in its purest form. As a young girl, I joined a Girl Scout troop in Atlanta, learning how to build fires in the wilderness, pitch a tent, and the perfect recipe for GORP ("Good Ole' Raisins and Peanuts"). I wore my badges with pride and had dreams of changing the world. My mom would pitch tents in our backyard so I could sleep with the trees, and my father and I explored the woods around our home with our dog Sandy. As I got older, this inclination towards nature never left, but I slowly lessened my engagement in the 'granola' side of things. I walked on the beach with my dogs and kept plants in my room, but I never found the time to spend more than a couple of hours of non-interrupted time in the natural world. I guess moving from the woodsy suburbs of Atlanta to the beach towns of Charleston will do that to you.
Moving out to California, though, I decided to dip my toes in hikes and long nature walks, exploring the Grand Canyon, fire trails in Berkeley, and waterfalls in Oregon. But then Covid hit, and I became lazier than ever. Like most of the world, my life became a simplified existence of meandering from my bed to my desk to the kitchen and back again, a never-ending cycle of some distorted mundanity that was forced upon us. Life itself became much less exciting, and I found myself barely leaving the safety of my home.
But once life gradually returned to normal, I decided that it was time to restart and find a more meaningful and nourishing existence. And part of that included spending more time with our beloved Mother Earth. I slowly started exploring National Parks and areas around Berkeley, finding a favorite hiking trail in Bolinas, CA that went through a cow pasture and onto the gorgeous Pacific beaches. I begrudgingly hiked up and up to Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park, complaining to my partner the entirety of the hike up, arriving and feeling on top of the world (albeit very badly sunburnt later). I was lucky to have a partner dedicated to spending time in nature and patient with my nervous habits. He brought out the explorer in me and taught me that fear was temporary and fleeting, and as long as you take the proper precautions ahead of time, every hike is worth it. I owe a lot of gratitude to him for motivating me to go outside. We even went on my first backpacking trip in Joshua Tree National Park, and I found myself in awe of my body's capabilities and vowed to never doubt myself again.
Now I'm living in Colorado at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. My backyard is a forest, and my front door overlooks the gorgeous Uncompahgre mountain range. I am quite literally living in the wilderness, and I've never felt more at peace with myself and the natural world. I'm certainly no expert (yet), but I've learned some important tips and tricks to motivating yourself to get outside and get moving. I'm lucky to live and have lived in places where hiking is convenient and nature is flourishing; but even if you don't have easy access to hiking trails or mountains to climb, there's always something beautiful around you—you've just gotta find it.
Trust me, I know that the simple act of leaving home can be scary in the post-pandemic world, let alone re-entering civilization and surrounding oneself with other human beings. But that's the beautiful thing about the natural world, you can be as close or as far from others as you want! You can hike alone or with a friend or two; take your family camping; run through the woods; read a book on the beach. There are endless opportunities.
Before You Leave
First, decide on a locale and goal for your outing. What are you looking to accomplish from this outing? Are you planning a short walk around your neighborhood, a day trip to the mountains, a run along the beach? Where's your destination? I usually decide between a local trip or a greater adventure outside the confines of your community. I highly recommend the app AllTrails for finding nearby hiking trails (or far away ones). Screenshot the maps ahead of time to make sure you know where you're going and for reference while walking. This, of course, is only really necessary for bigger hikes (not as much a short stroll on the beach or in your neighborhood).
You can also set mental goals and purposes for this venture. I like to choose an intention and stick to it, creating a sort of mantra to contemplate while walking. Sometimes I'll choose to focus on the flora or fauna, really looking to appreciate and glorify the natural beauty that surrounds us. Or I'll contemplate my own identity and the things that are fundamental to me. I've also used walks to try to clear my head when I'm feeling down or upset about something—there's nothing better than clearing your head while getting your body moving and appreciating nature. Just the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can greatly improve your mood; your body is capable of such incredible things, and your ability to move—in whatever way your body can move—is incredible.
I recommend making a killer playlist that fits the vibes of your trip; I always listen to the Allman Brothers Band in the mountains, country music in the desert, or some reggae on a beach trip. Setting the mood is key to convincing yourself to get out of the house and move your body.
Make sure you pack accordingly for whatever adventure you decide to undertake. Camping gear, fishing poles, sunglasses, hiking boots––you name it! Each trip will require something different, but there's some key items that you should bring with you for any outdoor venture: sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, water (with electrolytes!), and some salty snacks. Definitely don't forget sunscreen. The last thing you want on your nature outing is a nasty sunburn. I can attest to this. Prep a first aid kit ahead of time—REI or other outdoorsy companies have great kits and recommendations for what to keep in your first aid kit. You should always be prepared for the unexpected.
I keep a hiking backpack handy with a first aid kit, extra electrolyte packets, sunscreen, a granola bar, gloves (but that's just the archaeologist in me), and the likes ready to grab and go whenever I need it! A general rule of thumb is to bring 1/2 a liter of water per hour you plan on hiking. Every person is different though, so just listen to your body's needs and plan accordingly. You may want to bring hiking poles with you too, along with other gear depending on the time of year and location. Maybe you're walking along the beach and might want to take a dip in the water—wear a swimsuit under your clothes! If you're hiking in the snow, snow shoes are a must. You get the idea.
If you're planning a bigger hike somewhere, make sure to either go with a friend or have an emergency contact. If it's a strenuous hike, an emergency contact is a must. Just let them know where you're going, when you'll be there, and a time you plan on being back by. That way, if they don't hear from you by 8pm or whatever time you set, they can call the proper authorities to look for you.
Check the weather ahead of time and decide on what time of day you want to begin your hike. I prefer morning or afternoon hikes to avoid the intense mid-day sun, but everyone is different. Watch out for rain and lightning! You never want to get caught in a flash flood when hiking, trust me.
Now you're ready to go!
During the Hike
Move at your own pace. This is not a race, no one is watching you or cares how fast or slow you go. The point is to just enjoy the moment and take in the serenity. You are your own guide!
Take lots of breaks as you need them, and be mindful of reapplying sunscreen and drinking lots of water. Take smaller sips of water regularly rather than infrequent chugging to ensure that you stay hydrated and keep up with your body's needs. If you start to feel light-headed or dizzy, stop! Take a break, drink water, eat a salty snack. You never want to push yourself too hard and end up in a dire situation. Listen to your body and don't overdo it.
One thing I'm especially bad at is looking up during a hike. As a moderately clumsy person and someone who's day job includes staring at the ground, I oftentimes find myself looking down instead of up and missing a lot of the scenery. I've learned that I have to take regular stops just to ensure that I'm taking in the natural beauty around me while also allowing me to be cautious of my footing while mid-hike. While there's certainly lots of cool things on the ground, generally the more beautiful sites lie at eye level.
Say hello to other hikers. There's a wonderful hiking culture that brings everyone together. While long, drawn out conversations are rare, you never know what friends you'll make on the trail, and you may even find a new hiking buddy!
Once you've gotten safely back to your car, reflect on the hike and take a moment to appreciate and respect your body for it's capabilities. You did the damn thing, and you should be beyond proud of yourself! I'm proud of you!
Be safe, have fun, and enjoy the journey!
Trust me, you'll learn things about yourself and the world around you that you never knew before. Every hike brings about a different self-realization for me, and I find them to be the best places to learn about myself.