2020: A happier you through hiking

Thanksgiving is behind us, the end of the year is bearing down: it’s the time we start thinking about next year, the new year and what promise it might hold. About the opportunity to, if not reinvent ourselves, to work toward the version of ourselves we want to become, the image of us we’d like to see looking back in the mirror every morning. 

The image that makes us happy.

Often, that tweaked version of ourselves involves loosing some weight, of trimming the excess and having more energy. That version excites us — until we contemplate the perceived route it will take to get there: an hour a day in the gym doing things we don’t much care to do, frankly. Thanks that don’t make us happy. Then there’s the whole diet thing, which — again, to be frank — makes us not particularly excited about mealtime. Suddenly, that version of our new self, the happier version, gets sullied by our having to do lot of unhappy things. We go from optimistic and excited to, well, to thinking that 2020 isn’t going to be much different than 2019.

The problem? We convince ourselves that in order to achieve “happy,” we must first go through a period of not-so-happy. And that needn’t be the case.

Think about the happiest time in your life. Probably when you were a kid, right? When Saturday rolled around and you were turned loose, with the only directive that you “stay out of trouble.” Remember that feeling of independence, of being on your own and responsible only for yourself? Of being able to explore and discover new things, like the fact it’s easier to climb up a tree than down. Even then, the trip down — the scary trip down — gave us a sense of control, quite unlike the feeling we got at school, at home, on our rigorously coached sports teams. During what many consider the happiest times of their lives, we were happiest being outdoors. So why wouldn’t the same apply today?

Here are some of my happiest moments from the past month:

Playing hooky. On a Wednesday morning, in the middle of the work week, I draped my jacket over the back of my office chair, turned off my computer’s sleep function and snuck out the back door* on a cloudless, 45-degree morning for a 6-mile hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Feelings of guilt? Not a bit. Work was the last thing on my mind — until I got back to work. By then, I was in a better frame of mind to deal with things.

Lost in the woods. Not lost, exactly, since I was leading the hike and no one wants to hear that the leader doesn’t know where you are. “Lost” in the sense of being off the trail, deep in the woods where few people venture, seeing things few folks have laid eyes on. My path not dictated by blazes, but rather by curiosity, by wondering what’s over that next ridge, or where this old roadbed leads. We don’t have much opportunity for true adventure as adults, but this was certainly it.

Enveloped in darkness. You want a true sense of childlike exhilaration? Sneak out after dark. At night in the woods, your world shrinks to whatever your headlamp illuminates — typically, a world about 20-feet in circumference. As adults, we tend to be wary of the dark, but as a kid darkness beckons and excites. Head into out into the night and recapture that sense of awe, inspired by the unseen world beyond.

Letting go. On my usual morning walking route I happened to see an opening into the woods, which led to a faint trail that shortly crossed a railroad track I knew, and, just beyond, a spur line I didn’t. I walked railroad tracks as a kid (including a harrowing “Stand By Me” crossing of a live trestle over the mighty Susquehanna River), so I followed. Shortly, I was on the unfamiliar south bank of the Eno River, following first an old roadbed and then the path of least resistance through a floodplain forest. Before I knew it, an hour had passed. I was stymied in my attempt to hike upstream and complete my survey of this terra incognito. I vowed to one day return.

Eons from “civilization.” At the most chaotic time of the retail year, when masses where elbowing their way past one another in search of 30 percent off a big screen TV, nine friends and I were experiencing the anti-Black Friday by enjoying the serenity of a hike along Falls Lake. Water lapped at the shore of the coves we ducked in and out of, freshly fallen leaves crackled under foot, the clear sky made the remaining fall color all the more brilliant. The talk ranged from a debate over canned vs. fresh cranberries, to adventure plans for 2020. Cell phones switched to Airplane mode were used only to take pictures. There was no talk of work, of chores, of great deals on big screen TVs. 

Yeah, I could stand to lose a pound or two, maybe cut back on the Little Debbies. But when I “work out,” when I’m on the trail, I’m about as happy as can be. 

Something to consider as you mull a happier version of you in the year ahead.

  • This is a dramatization (I work for myself) and is simply meant to portray the guilty pleasure of sneaking out of work for some me time.  

Join us!

Looking for a happier version of you in 2020 — and to be happy getting there? Our GetHiking! 2020 Winter Program for New Hikers is the perfect program for getting you on the trail. Every Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., we hike a local trail. We start out at a mellow pace hiking just a mile and a half, then, over eight weeks, gradually increase our distance until come March you’re capable of hiking more than 5 miles! We provide additional support along the way to help you develop as a hiker. Learn more and sign up here

Intrigued by the notion of hiking at night? Our GetHiking! Tuesday Night Hikes program heads out at least one Tuesday night a month during the winter and explores a new trail — in the dark! Headlamps and hot chocolate provided. Learn more and sign up here

Tired of hiking the same old trails? Or just trails in general? Our GetHiking! Winter Wild series takes you to the places you thought you knew, and exposes you to their wilder, less-visited side. About 90 percent of each hike is either on long-abandoned roadbeds or off-trail. Learn more and sign up here.

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