Sterling pond hike summit
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Hiking Creates Mental Clarity

The mountains are calling

…and I picked up.

mount Mansfield summit

I don’t know if it’s because I grew up surrounded by mountains almost always visible, or because over that last year or so hiking really has grown to mean this much to me, but now that I live in a city I get the most intense urge to get to the mountains whenever possible. It happens when I haven’t been in a few weeks- I get this really persistent feeling in my body of being overwhelmed and my brain feels cloudy and I just know it’s time to get out and recalibrate.

I’m a really big believer in hiking alone at least 50 percent of the time for reasons I’ll get into at a later date. The big reason for the purposes of this post is that it lets you be with yourself wholly and uninterrupted, and for me that’s where a lot of personal breakthroughs happen.

Sterling pond hike summit

I’m not great with meditation, because I’ve got 2459489 thoughts going through my mind at any given second. And I feel guilty that they’re present when I’m trying to clear my mind, because that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. When I hike I find that with the thoughts that enter my conscious- whatever they may be- I’m much more willing to let them in and process them fully.

By doing this I’m able to take all of the attentions that have been storing up in my mental junk drawer and organize them into things that make sense for me. It’s how I realized I wanted to start hiker thoughts and it’s how I came to the conclusion somewhat more recently that when I’m open to processing the thoughts that come up I am able to address them and move forward.

Not every thought you have is going to be profound, and not every problem is going to have an answer. But I find that when I hike by myself and I’m out in nature all it asks of me is that I be there. And I think that meditation is the same way, it just doesn’t work as well for me personally.

You have to show up for hiking physically and mentally, and when you’re working to get past that next switchback or up that rock scramble it’s a lot harder to judge yourself for the thoughts you have.

So what does this process look like? For me, it entails going on my hike without a watch, headphones, or anyone else, and hiking quietly to the summit. I allow myself to ruminate on anything that comes into my mind for as long or as little as I feel I need to. Sometimes I circle back to thoughts later, sometimes I think about them for a minute and move on, and sometimes it’s just that line from high school musical “YeaH we’re gonna Boop Boop Boop- Boop to the top!” on repeat for three minutes straight while I half dance as I climb. Whatever it is, I let it happen with no judgements, just a willingness to be honest with myself.

looking glass trail

When I summit the mountain, I take it in and eat my snack and enjoy what I’ve accomplished, and then I take out my journal. I have this really thin paperback journal that I started carrying with me a couple of months ago because I wanted to be able to write down what I was thinking and feeling and record that stream of conscious. After hiking up the mountain and fully formulating my thoughts into words and sentences that make sense to me I write down what I remember or what comes to the page and once I feel like I’ve gotten everything out I close the journal and then hike down when I’m ready.

Sometimes I hike down and think more, sometimes I plug in and enjoy some music, but I always feel an almost overwhelming sense of relief when I’m heading back to my car. I feel really fortunate that I’ve never been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, and that therapy isn’t something I feel I need at this time in my life. Despite these things though, I do feel like getting outside and taking time to connect with how I’m feeling and why I’ve been feeling that way allows me to recalibrate with myself and who I want to be, and I find a tremendous amount of value in that.

boone scout trail

I don’t know if this post will help anyone, or if any of you feel a little more connected with me when I’m honest about the things that are maybe a little odd about me, but I hope the next time you go hiking or even on a nature walk you allow yourself the time and space to connect and journal and grow as you need to.

If you do try it let me know if you get anything out of it, or what your average hike looks like!

Question: What do you think about when you hike?

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