Running but for hippy simps
If the subject of a hike is ever approached in my house, it’s immediately written off as a “glorified walk through some trees” by everyone in attendance - dog included. You know how some dogs wag their tails and get all excited when you say the word “walk?” Yeah, well our dog literally falls over if you so much as whisper the word “hike.” Seriously, the phrase “Jimbo, you wanna go on a hike?” sends him into cardiac arrest. I’ve decided that he has an attitude problem, or maye he’s just a morbidly obese lab with asthma and hyperlipidemia. What a perfect family mascot.
But I digress.
Save for the “glorified” part, my family is not technically wrong about hiking. A hike is just a walk through nature. Hiking requires no acute endurance, exceptional athleticism, or physical prowess. To my knowledge, no one’s ever won a trophy or received a medal because they completed a hike (backpacking doesn’t count). So why is hiking so great?
Well, for me at least, hiking is one of the most enriching activities in my life. In terms of health benefits, it improves cardiovascular fitness and strengthens your core muscles, especially if you hike hills with uneven terrain. And it’s a low-impact means for burning calories, not to mention an enjoyable excuse to get outside. Most importantly, hiking is a wonderful way to engage with nature. Regardless if you have 48 hours or 45 mins, a hike can drastically lower your stress and improve your overall mental health. According to a study published in 2018, exposure to nature reduces depression, anxiety, and impulsive decision-making. My own experiences in nature, particularly those that involved hiking, certainly corroborate these findings.
Hiking offers a tranquil space free from distractions, where trivialities like failing a quiz or being ghosted by a hook-up become irrelevant and more important concerns come into view. For example, I was walking through Point Lobos with my dad–who was protesting in silence because he hates physical activity–when it became clear that Duke was the right school for me. Looking out at the Pacific ocean, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in marine biology (a lifelong dream that had recently lost appeal with my introduction to neuroscience), rather than spend the next four years preparing for the MCATs. While Berkeley offered a great pre-professional medical track, Duke boasted an exceptional marine lab AND pre-med program to match. I realized I did not have to choose a career path before accepting an offer of admission. After spending the day surrounded by tidepools, beaches, and coastal pines, I was fairly confident in my decision.
I know, I know, some of you are thinking: “no shit you chose to study the ocean, you were right next to the freaking ocean on that hike. That has nothing to do with the act of hiking itself.” Allow me to reassure you: plenty of other personal revelations have been made on hikes. I realized that I was in an abusive relationship while on a hike. When I was backpacking with a friend in 10th grade, I finally admitted that I had an eating disorder. On a hike I took two weeks ago, I learned that I’m severely allergic to poison oak. Without the time and space to self-reflect, I don’t know if I would have discovered any of those things, at least not before they did significant damage to my health. Hiking provides the perfect opportunity for introspection.
Hiking has encouraged me to face difficult truths about myself, and I am undoubtedly a better person for it. Even if hiking does not provide that same respite for you, find the activity that does. Maybe it’s baking bread, creating art, or just staring off into space and pondering your own existence. I know I’ve done all three, especially during quarantine. So the next time you refuse to go on a hike, stating that it’s “like running, but for hippy simps” (a real quote from my cousin), think twice before you make your decision. Especially when we return to school, be sure to make time for activities that give you a break from Duke culture. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s still important to try.