On my recent walks I’ve been thinking about the huge part that hiking & fell walking plays in my life. It’s been a mental as well as a physical journey for me.
Back when we started going for walks at the weekends, about 5 years ago, it was something I knew I was doing, purely because I “should” get out more. By the time i was in my 30’s my life had become very unbalanced and I was very inactive and spent most of my life indoors. As you’ll have read in my previous posts, that became a big problem when my mental health got to crisis point and forced me to think about what I needed to do to mend that. Part of that was the the realisation that my physical health and lack of physical activity was a big part of my problems. Walking was / is one of the most accessible ways to exercise and was something me and Andy were willing to try again together. We had done some walking when we were younger, but in all honesty I did it back then because he wanted to do it. I felt the same when we started going out again a few years ago. We both needed the exercise and we had some rifts in our relationship that needed to be mended and needed to find common interests again after a few tough years. I bought the outdoor gear, the waterproof trousers, the hiking rucksack, and walking poles (all the gear no idea) and we decided to start hiking up the Wainwright Fells. That gave us something to aim for, a purpose or excuse to get outside.
At the start my aim was purely to get outside, do a walk as quickly as possible to get it over with, and to get back home to the couch, or to a pub for a meal. I walked with that end point in mind. I was heavily blinkered by my thoughts of what i’d do when the walk was over, and I’d check off every km in my mind as another km closer to getting back in the car. My head would be down, looking at my feet. Rarely would I really stop and take in the scenery. I just wanted to get home.
As time went on, I started paying more attention to my thoughts while I was out. I noticed that I would go in to it, presuming i’d hate it. I’d physically resist the wind and rain. I’d tense up and break in to a run when the weather would take a turn for the worse, even though I had a good rain coat and boots. One of these days I remember thinking… wait… my body right now is not as uncomfortable in these conditions as my brain is! I paid attention to my body and noticed I actually liked the sensation of the wind or rain against my skin. I started to relax a little. Before long I started to look forward to different weathers. I saw that I actually prefered a damp, grey, misty, drizzly walk in the autumn than I did a walk in the hot and dry summer days.
My thoughts were holding me prisoner in so many ways. They were trying to override my actual physical experience. I started to raise my head more as I walked, no longer focused on my feet and the immediate path ahead. I started to stop more and look around. I was always astonished by what was around me. Sure i’d stood on a few fell tops by now and I’d liked the view at the top but up until now i’d been so blinkered and goal focused i’d failed to take in ALL of the path.
During a big climb, I would often have spent all my time thinking how high my heart rate was, how uncomfortable I was and how many calories i’d be burning off so I could justify that Steak and Ale pie in the pub after. I’d stop and gasp for air and think how hard this was but as I started to trust my thoughts less and to trust my actual physical experience I noticed that when I stopped mid climb to take a breath, I started to take time to stop and look around and to marvel at where I was, the wind in my hair, the feeling of my heart beating through my chest. It now started to feel less like exhaustion and stress to feel more like exhileration at being alive and astonished by the beauty of what was around me.
What else was I missing? What else was I doing that took me away from my physical experience?
I started noticing that when walking without being so focused on getting it over with, I started to let my mind wander more. I’d start to play with ideas. I remember asking Andy what he would think about on walks and his answer “nothing in particular” infuriated me. I have such an insanely active brain I couldn’t imagine not thinking about anything in particular or not having a mental to do list running in the background. Perhaps I could let that go? So I did… and soon I noticed I’d start feeling more inspired to be creative. I’ve been wanting to write a book for years and it’s when i’m walking that I have started coming up with more of the things I want to write about or things to blog about. I also found that whatever had been building up mentally over the past week, perhaps about work or relationships, these things would pop up in my mind as I walked, but instead of mentally mulling them over I’d feel those feelings more physically. These were feelings that i’d rushed past in the week and which were building up but had given no outlet to. I’d find these feelings would just bubble up to the surface as I was walking and I’ve even literally found myself starting to cry on walks as these frustrations have worked their way up to the physical surface and been released in to the mountains or valleys.
Now I started to get it. My sunday walk wasn’t just me getting my steps in for the week or ticking it off my to do list it was like having a mental, physical and emotional experiential cleanse. This wasn’t exercise, this was more like a spiritual experience.
Needless to say, I always look forward to my sunday hikes now. I appreciate the true purpose of getting outdoors, moving your body, moving your mind, being part of nature and that sense of scale when you look around and realise you are a very very small part of something so much bigger.
Hike-O-Therapy reminds us when we see the mountains that tower above us, all of our problems and concerns do seem less huge. The rain and the rivers of water remind us that they carry our tears back to the ocean. The winds that push against us are there to blow away the cobwebs of our stiffled minds.
What does getting outdoors in nature do for you?
Check out the photographs I’ve started taking on my Hikes, I think they really show how I feel about the mountains.
Find them on Instagram:
Or here on my Photography page of my website: