“I can’t believe you didn’t grow up hiking and doing outdoorsy things,” she said. “I don’t mean that as a criticism,” she continued, “but that’s hard to fathom growing up in a place like this.” I chuckled and said, “No worries. I hear that a lot. My family wasn’t into this type of stuff and we didn’t have the resources to try it out,” I explained, “so I was never exposed to the ways hiking and the outdoors could improve my life.”
I grew up in Minnesota—the land of 11,842 lakes. Home to Voyageurs National Park, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, two national forests, 75 state parks and recreation areas, 59 state forests, and an abundance of city and county parks. In total, we have more than 12 million acres of public land, which is about a quarter of the state’s total landmass. Add to that 183,326 miles of shoreline along the state’s lakes and rivers, and you can begin to understand why many people’s minds are blown when they learn that I didn’t discover the great outdoors until later in life.
FALLING IN LOVE
Having no interest in the stress and expenses that accompany a big wedding, my husband, Jer, and I opted to get married in Hawaii. That week in January of 2004 was when it happened—I fell head over heels in love with the great outdoors. (And Jer too! 😉 ) The smell of the ocean air mingling with the plumeria, the lush green mountains that tumbled into the turquoise Pacific, and the sound of the waves carrying millions of minuscule grains of sand out into the ocean, to be deposited again when mother nature decided the time was right. I was in love.
The following year, Jer and I took our first trip to Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior and it happened again. I’d lived in Minnesota for 28 years at that point and had no idea that this state was home to such a breathtakingly majestic place. This was when my obsession with Minnesota’s arrowhead region began.
INTRO TO HIKING
Considering that we grew up in indoorsy families, it’s safe to assume that we weren’t particularly active folks. But being surrounded by so much natural beauty up north, I couldn’t help but explore. We started small by poking around the unofficial trails atop Palisade Head. And in just a few short years we were attempting challenging day hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail. All these years later, hiking in this area still takes my breath away. It’s also improved my life in countless other ways. Here are some of the ways hiking changed my life.
HOW HIKING WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE
CONNECT WITH WHAT’S REAL
We’re living in a rapidly changing, technology-driven, always-on world. Even before the public health concerns of 2020, we were spending more and more time alone and in front of screens. While there are many wonderful things about this technology, there are also things that are not so wonderful. The news, divisiveness, and accompanying loneliness can feel really heavy sometimes. And that’s when you know it’s time to get outside.
Heading outside to go hiking allows you to turn off your technology and connect to real life. Feel the warm sun on your face, breathe in the fresh air, and listen to the sound of the cascading creek. Grab your partner or a friend and enjoy each other’s presence while taking in everything that’s real. Whether you’re in a city park or the massive wilderness—alone or with a friend—connecting to real living humans and nature will help you feel better no doubt.
CLEAR YOUR HEAD
Connecting to what’s real is one of the best ways to clear your head, let go of worry, reduce stress, and improve your mood. Physical activity has long been known for its mood-enhancing benefits and recent studies have shown the myriad of ways exercising outdoors can amplify these effects.
The moment I step outside, I immediately step into the present by noticing the chill in the air or the earthy smell of a hot humid day. My rhythmic movement and breath become a sort of meditation and for moments, I’m able to disconnect from the day’s troubles. Although I’m short of breath, I feel fully alive climbing those big hills. I try to remember to stop and catch my breath at the top and take in the beautiful view. No matter what was going on before I went outside, I come back from hiking refreshed and renewed.
This whole process I’ve been describing to you is also a huge creativity booster. Many of the ideas I’m sharing with you here came to me during a hike earlier this morning. I’ve been thinking about writing new content for a while but I was struggling with the opposite of writer’s block—I had too many ideas. I was having a difficult time narrowing down what I wanted to say and how I could make it different than every other article about hiking and the outdoors.
Both Jer and I have had countless ideas come to us while we’re outdoors. When you turn off the technology and step away from life’s demands, you’re able to clear your head and let your creativity start flowing again. You might even be inspired by nature, taking in the scents, colors, and movements of the abundance of life that surrounds you.
TRANSFORM YOUR HEALTH
This might seem like a no-brainer and I’ve already touched on the mental health benefits, but there’s so much more. Aside from the great workout and mental clarity, hiking can help boost your Vitamin D levels, a necessary nutrient for cellular function and immune health. It builds strength and supports longevity. Hiking can help you lose weight, boost confidence, and even improve sleep. All of this and more … and I’ve yet to mention that it’s an activity that’s actually fun!
While I’ve embraced the daily habit of physical activity for more than a decade, those first few years looked quite different. I had a demanding corporate job, so most of my workouts happened at 5 am, on the elliptical machine, indoors. When I’d take time away from work to enjoy the great outdoors, I’d get terrible shin splints. I was in great cardiovascular shape and a healthy weight, but my body, feet, and joints lacked strength and flexibility. Tired of my annual shin splints, I committed to taking more of my workouts outdoors. All these years later, I’m in awe at the strength and balance I’ve built by moving naturally outdoors.
DEEPEN RELATIONSHIPS AND MAKE NEW FRIENDS
I touched on loneliness earlier, but this is a topic near and dear to me and too important to simply gloss over. Even before the 2020 health crisis and ensuing lockdowns, we were in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness. Nearly 40 percent of American’s report that they don’t have a single person who they feel knows them well. I did my own poll in Instagram stories, and sadly, the results I heard were in alignment with this statistic. I wrote an in-depth post on the topic that you can read here.
Enough of the bad news though because there’s something you can do about it right now. Call a friend and invite them to meet you for a hike. If they’re booked out for months, try someone else. Or you know that stranger on Instagram you’ve always wanted to meet in real life? Send them a message and invite them along. I know it’s scary to put yourself out there like this, but I promise that it will be worth it if you keep at it for a few years.
Getting together outdoors can relieve social pressure and anxiety even better than grabbing a drink. There’s no need to dress up, do your hair, or perform because no one is watching. Walking side by side allows the conversation to flow more freely because you’re not on the spot. The movement allows you to slow down and reflect. Talk about what’s real, what you’re feeling, and what scares you. You’ll discover you’re not alone and that there’s more that connects us than divides us.
If you’re local to Minnesota, join the waitlist to be the first to know about my upcoming guided hikes where you can experience all the benefits of hiking and makes new friends at the same time.
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We’re living through challenging times and life can be difficult for all of us in different ways. One of the fastest ways to improve your life and feel better is by going outside and taking a hike. You’ll love connecting to yourself, others, nature, and all that’s real. Plus you’ll look and feel great. What do you have to lose?
Stay wild & happy trails!