Hiking isn't only good for the thighs. It's good for the soul, too

A good (or bad) hike will teach you something new about yourself

22 July 2018 - 00:00

On a recent hike, I thought I was going to die. Wearing the wrong shoes (even though I know better and do own a good pair of hiking boots), I climbed up the side of a thorny, rocky hill, narrowly avoiding slipping and the risk of spraining or breaking something.
I was on the gorgeous land of Brahman Hills, a hotel in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and was on the verge of tears because on top of everything, I had left my asthma pump back home in Joburg. On purpose. Because I had forgotten how intense hiking can really be and I thought I was Rambo.
For those who have never been hiking (do yourself a favour and try it), this probably sounds like an exaggeration. Because surely hiking is, to use a cliché, a walk in the park? Well, it isn't - at least not all the time.
Speaking to Time magazine in 2017, University of Florida engineering and biomechanics professor Daniel Ferris said while walking on flat terrain requires little effort (comparing it to the swing of a pendulum), hiking "knocks out a lot of that energy transfer".
"Your heart rate and metabolic rate go up, and you burn more calories."
According to the Harvard Health blog, hiking increases your cardiovascular fitness, with hills forcing "your heart to work harder".
No two hiking trails are the same - and, of course, no two people will encounter a trail the same way.One of the best things about going for a hike is the variety you experience when it comes to levels of difficulty. You can be walking leisurely on a fairly flat surface one hour and the next hour, feel as though you are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. And this doesn't even need to be on a two-day hike - a good half-day hike can leave you feeling as though you've gone for boxing, martial arts, swimming and running, all at the same time.Harvard Health also points out that hiking can be a stress reliever.
And I agree. Being in nature - whether it's arid veld, lush vegetation or somewhere in between - is pretty relaxing. Just don't think about the snakes you could encounter along the way (unless you're going hiking in winter, you weirdo).
While I love the physical benefits of hiking, my favourite thing about it is how good it is for the soul.
Yes, I know this sounds like something out of the last days of The Oprah Winfrey Show, when she was all about Eckhart Tolle and The Secret. But really, hiking is a spiritual experience for me.You have hours to marvel in nature, hours to connect with those you're hiking with (provided you even like them in the first place), hours to take gorgeous pictures of your surroundings (and yourself) and hours to think about your life. For me, these thoughts are usually positive, but about halfway through each hike, I often find myself regretting my decision to go on this hike in the first place because the trail has reached a stage that feels like an episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive.
"Well, this hike was a bad idea," you'll think to yourself, before thinking about all the other bad decisions you've made in your life. Every hike I have been on (loads) has had as many moments of fun chattiness and contemplative silence as it's had moments of snapping at your hiking mates because surely you took a wrong turn somewhere, followed by a seething silence.
A good (or bad) hike can also teach you something new about yourself. I didn't realise I had a fear of heights, for instance, until I started crying and shaking while crossing a narrow bridge at the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve in Ekurhuleni (a gem of a hiking spot).
The best part of a hike, aside from the exquisite views you get from a high vantage point? Surviving it. The firming of your thighs is great, of course - but it falls short of the hiker's high, that feeling of accomplishment once you make it back to your car after a three-hour or three-day hike.

Don't overestimate your capabilities. Start with a short trail, perhaps 8km. While hiking is something for almost everyone, no hiking trail is for everyone.
Dress comfortably and practically, be it in gym clothes or a tracksuit. Essentials include hiking socks (or any thick socks), a hat and sunscreen. Hiking shoes are a good investment - even quality sneakers can have a hard time in hiking conditions.
Carry a backpack with essentials such as loads of water and snacks (dried fruit, nuts, chocolate and sandwiches).
Have your phone fully charged, even though network availability isn't always guaranteed.
Make sure you have a map so you don't lose your way.
Don't go alone. Have someone with you, especially someone who's hiked before...

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