Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hittin' the Woods

So I know this is occurring to me very late in the year, as it's getting quite nippy out of doors now. But I'm thinking of getting back into hiking. What I hadn't realized is that the AMC (the Appalachian Mountain Club, not the theater...) organizes outings, or at least people who belong to the AMC do. So on their website you can plug in your state and it will tell you what local events are going on. It can be anything from hiking to walking, paddling to social hour. Maybe they even have snow-shoeing in the winter (which I've never tried, but the snow shoes are so cute, I might just take it up!). And since I have this Saturday morning off, for once (no class), I figure maybe I'll take advantage and get outside, see nature, get some exercise, and meet new people.

The cool stuff about hiking:

1. It's the easiest and least expensive outdoor activity (ok, well, maybe not counting gas, depending on how far afield you go). This is huge for me, because living in the city isn't cheap. And going out and being social generally involves spending money on dinner, or drinks, or a movie, or an event ticket, or membership in a club. So I'm all for finding ways to be social that aren't going to break the bank. I also signed up for ten meetup groups last night (ok, yes, overboard, but they all looked so interesting!)

2. It'll get your heart rate up. And the wonky thing about that is that I find the going the hardest at the base of the hill. Like when you're going up a very subtle incline on your way to the heavy hiking and you're getting out of breath and wondering why the hell it's so hard when you haven't even started the mountain yet. The rocks at the top are practically cake compared to that! The top is like step aerobics to me, I could run like a mountain goat. That bottom's a killer.

3. Sunlight, sunlight, sunlight. Sunlight is good for you (in moderation of course). Brief exposure can help you get enough vitamin D, but too much can increase your risk of skin cancer. So start off your hike, get warmed up, then stop for a stretch and slap on some sunscreen. The other factor in sunlight is that it elevates your mood, especially if you're like me and have a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where too many gray days make the winter just seem dreary, and then that day of sunlight makes you feel like you want to jump out of your skin singing to the radio (that would be the seratonin, which is increased by exposure to natural light).

4. Help prevent osteoporosis. It's important, especially early (and middle) in life to do a fairly amount of impact activity. But running and kickboxing are often hard on the joints. Hiking has been shown to help increase bone density and slow calcium loss. And trails are gentler on the joints than pavement (I imagine this is because dirt is a softer and more spongy surface).

5. Boost your balance. If you've ever tried hiking up a rocky trail, you know that the rocks really have no concern for the people walking on them, so they stick out over which way, tip over without notice, skitter down the trail, or get very slippery from moisture in the air. Good hiking shoes are key. But hiking can also help build up balance (especially with a big backpack) as well as ankle strength. If you don't have very good ankle strength, try to minimize the scrambling over loose rock until you've built it up a little, just so you don't twist your ankle and get stuck on the mountain (bosus are a good way of building up ankle strength).

6. Enjoy nature. Especially this time of year (and especially in the Northeast), the leaves are turning yellow, orange and red, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. And being outside in the stillness (especially if you're used to the loud city) can be very meditative and calming. So every once in a while, take a gander up at the canopy, or off to the side of the trail, and there are amazing things to see, from funky shaped mushrooms to tree frogs.

So turn off your cell phone (but have it with you in case of emergency), bring a friend, and make a social event of it yourself!


Charlotte said...

Hiking is officially my fave thing to do outside. Really. I grew up (mostly) out west and walked in the mountains nearly every day. I miss that so much.

Great post!

Romny said...

I have SAD too! During the winter I sit next to my "Happy Light" and the difference is amazing! That's one reason why I could never live back East. I would get into a deep depression like no body's business.

WeightingGame said...

love love love hiking. I wish Illinois weren't so darn flat. We're planning a big 5-yr anniversary trip (Vietnam or Costa Rica) and hiking will be a must!

The Lethological Gourmet said...

WG, that's like Missouri...I lived there for five years, and it's pretty much pancake-flat-ville. Vietnam or Costa Rica sounds amazing!

Romny, I've heard about those happy lights! I didn't realize they were really that good!

Charlotte, I don't hike nearly as much as I should, considering I live a relatively short drive from tons of mountains!

Romny said...

The lights are expensive but definitely worth it! If you can swing one, I'd recommend getting one. I've had mine for about 5 years now and the bulb hasn't gone out. I got mine from Gaim (