When I got to the trailhead this morning the parking lot was filled with twenty-four vehicles.
Eleven were from out of state — two from Utah, three from Colorado, one each from Kentucky, Arizona, Washington, Texas and Montana.
Just think, they’d come those distances, and it took me just eighteen minutes to get here!
That’s just one of the benefits I get from living in this remarkable Hikers’ Heaven.
Even more important than this though, is that I woke up this morning to another day, still healthy and well enough, to put one foot in front of the other along a trail.
Surprisingly, I have a number of friends my age or younger, who say they’d like to hike, but never seem to have the “get-up-and-go” to make it to a trailhead.
That’s too bad, hiking is the most natural and beneficial exercise there is. Beats gym, spa, golf, tennis and most other forms of exercise.
So why not, if you wake up another morning, get out and hike, even if it’s along a city street..
How Seniors Can Get that Get-Up-and-Go
Let me offer a suggestion or two of how to get off the dime and onto a trail.
What works best for me is to merely give myself permission. To go hiking. Or not.
Here’s how it works.
I keep it simple. I figure it is just a matter of inertia that keeps me from doing whatever it is I would like to do for my health, but don’t.
For hiking, it is a matter of overcoming the first and biggest hurdle — getting out the door.
Most of my life I pushed myself — to earn enough for this and for that, and to be good enough to achieve this or that.
But now, being an old geezer, I am free to give myself permission to do whatever I like.
And that goes for hiking.
There are days when I don’t feel like hiking. When that happens I’ve got a million excuses. It’s too cold It’s too hot. It’s cloudy and going to rain. It’s too windy. I don’t have the energy.
So I just give myself the littlest push — to get out the door. And I promise myself that I can turn around and come right back in the door if I like, and not go hiking.
It isn’t much of an effort to go out the door — knowing I can change my mind about hiking any day I like.
That idea of “permission” makes a huge difference.
Just yesterday, I did what I would have thought absolutely foolish a few years ago.
I got up late. I did not feel at all energetic.
But I drove to the trailhead anyway. And when I got there I wasn’t feeling much better. Furthermore, I had another great excuse, that if I hiked any distance at all, I would miss my mid-day TV news program.
So okay, I did the most outrageous thing imaginable — I took a really, really short walk along the stream and back to my truck.
It was maybe the shortest hike i’ve taken in years. Just a quarter of a mile. Or less!
But I could go home feeling successful, rather than feeling defeated because I’d failed to try.
Set Really Low Expectations
Sometime in my “growing old” period I’ve discovered that the biggest resistances to most things is having too high expectations.
When I couldn’t achieve them I always felt let down. And that discouraged me from trying again.
It took a while, though I gradually accepted the fact that I was not going to be getting much better at things, but more likely I would get gradually a bit slower at them.
That acceptance did not come easy, for I am a Type A achiever.
But, as I lowered my expectations, things became a lot more manageable.
I love hiking. And after a couple of decades or so of retirement. it was always disappointing when I didn’t manage to climb our three highest mountains during a summer. I made excuses to myself — I was too busy off hiking elsewhere, there wasn’t enough time with all our visitors and other activities. Or we had too much monsoon weather. Or whatever! So I’ll be sure to set aside enough time next summer.
Slowly I adjusted to the idea that in my early eighties, this was too high a goal for me. Sure, I was certain I could do it. It just required more preparation and enough time.
But then, a big question was also popping up. Do I really want to climb them again?
Is that how I want to deal with the end of my life — pushing for record achievements at my age? Whatever it might be?
And each year with my answer to that question I lowered my expectations.
I’m still not immune from them. I’ve just the other day toyed with the idea of climbing a major peak this summer. But I honestly do realize it is just “toying,” for I don’t have a lot of “push” behind my desire.
That’s okay. I put that in the “dream box” at the rear of my mind. And leave it there.
I’m okay with two-miles a day hikes, punctuated once a week with five or six-milers and maybe even a ten to twelve miler once in a while.
So, I’m suggesting that if you are in the category of “wanting” to hike and not having the get-up-and-go to take it, try lowering your aims?
Set an achievable goal, even if it is just to get out the door. And give yourself permission to come right back in without hiking.
And don’t chastise yourself if you don’t go hiking today. This practice may surprise you at what it may lead to.
Make Hiking a Habit
I like to hike. I’ve enjoyed the outdoors all of my life. So I decided I would make a habit of a hike every day, even on days I didn’t feel like it.
I say to myself that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. Just get out the door, into the truck and head for a trailhead. And promise myself that when I get there I don’t really have to hike at all, if I still don’t want to.
On the way, I tell myself I will hike only a little bit, as little as I feel like, once I step out of the truck. And it’s important that I make good on the promise.
If I walk just a hundred paces and don’t feel like going farther, it’s okay. I can, and will, turn back if that’s how I feel when I get to that hundred pace mark.
Often at that point, I hear that little voice in my head say, ‘How about going a little bit farther?’ If that occurs, I will hike a little farther. And often at that point I’ll hear that little voice again, and maybe go a bit farther. It goes on and on like that, depending on the day.
The Benefits of the Unexpected
I’ve emphasized the down side of goal-setting hiking. The resistance.
What I haven’t spoken about is the joy of just letting go and enjoying whatever pace is comfortable, stopping as often as I like, and literally smelling the flowers.
I use this strategy over and over again.
I did it this morning.
I started out sluggish, like I felt yesterday, and really didn’t look forward to the trail.
But, as often happens, once I got into the pace of hiking I began to feel good. I ended up hiking two-and-a-half miles or so. And felt good about having done so.
That’s what I get out of having made it a habit to hike daily.
So, why not give it a try?
If you set your goal for tomorrow morning, to just get out the front door and into your vehicle, but give yourself permission to go hiking or not, you may be surprised. Especially if you do this every day for a week or so.
Walk Fifteen Minutes a Day
Most of us have resistance to doing something different. We make New Year’s resolutions about things like fitness and diet and break them before the end of the month.
There was a time when I had a serious operation that gave me huge hurdles to hiking.
It was open-heart surgery.
As soon as I was out of the ether in the recovery room, with all sorts of tubes and machines hanging from my body, they helped me up off the bed, and had me take a walk down the hall.
They did that every day until they sent me home.
Among the agglomeration of do’s and don’ts when I got home, was the ‘instruction” to walk fifteen minutes a day.
Not easy with all those tubes protruding. But with the urging of my daughter and wife, I did it.
In time, with virtually no effort, I stretched that to twenty minutes, then to half an hour.
And eventually I was back to walking down our road a mile a day,
That led to more distance, and finally back to the trails. This time though it was daily.
Of course, I had a dog who loved to go with me. And that made it a real joy.
Once in a while, like maybe once a week, my wife Joy wants to go along. So we’ll take our lunch and do a favorite three-to-five mile hike in a ponderosa forest on these days.
Don’t Get a Hiking Partner
This is a real stopper!
I’ve tried this again and again, and always with the same results.
Wasn’t it Einstein who said, “It’s insanity to keep on doing the same thing and expect different results?”
Whatever. I always failed to get a reliable hiking partner.
When my hiking partner didn’t go with me, well that was disastrous. The best excuse in the world for not going.
Hike by yourself.
If someone hikes with you from time to time, let that be a bonus, not a necessity.
Hope to meet you on a trail sometime, somewhere. You’d be surprised how often odd things do occur.