In every walk with nature, one receives far more than [s]he seeks.— John Muir
This week (a month early!) I made it halfway through my 2020 52 Hike Challenge! The main concept of this challenge is to complete 52 hikes throughout an entire year. To stay on track, this means at least one hike a week but as I learned in 2018 when I first attempted and completed the challenge, it’s just as easy to get behind as it is to get ahead (especially in the blazing summer months) but this year, as we all know too well, is very different.
The purpose of this challenge and what is defined as a hike can vary between hikers but according to the online campaign that first introduced me to the idea, it is an opportunity to “gain physical fitness, mental well-being, make new friends, explore new places, and connect with family, friends and yourself through nature.”
While some may disagree, to me, the length of the hike doesn’t matter as long as you’re getting in nature and walking a distance that feels good for you! The Meriam Webster dictionary definition of a hike is “a long walk especially for pleasure or exercise.” Personally, I’m in it for the pleasure and I don’t count anything less than a mile but that’s what works for me. When you make this challenge your own, you get to make the rules!
So, why hiking? For me it has become an outlet to clear my mind, practice being present, learn from and observe my natural surroundings, and track changes over time. Of course, not every hike I’m lucky enough to feel the lift of anxieties and stressors of everyday life but I’m certain (and researchers agree) that the cumulative effect of hiking (almost) every week and the act of moving my body outdoors contributes to a positive mental state.
Because I frequently hike many of the same trails due to time constraints (being a museum educator requires working A LOT of weekends) I get the luxury of observing my local nature change throughout the year. Sometimes these changes happen quickly, one week the prairie is covered in purple blooms, the next, they are replaced by yellow and white! A storm comes through and knocks over a tree I have a photo of from just a few weeks before. The bare winter trees are suddenly covered in bright green growth. Other changes are more gradual, what was once a sunny pathway is slowly covered by more shade and water rises and falls.
Each local hike may feature a new find – a family of deer at daybreak, a shiny beetle crossing the path, or woodpecker pecking away just out of sight. All of these things are just little pieces of what makes these mini-adventures a thrilling break from the daily grind of work and responsibilities.
When traveling, figuring out where a hike can happen is always my favorite part (along with choosing a museum to visit, of course). Even when visiting a more urban area, there’s always a way to squeeze in a hike even if that means a city park. Mixing in new locations with my regular trails keeps the challenge fresh and exciting so it doesn’t become just another item to check off my weekly list.
To keep track of my hikes I’ve tried journals and spreadsheets, but I’ve always been a visual person, so Instagram posts (#Chelseas52Hikes) have become my main platform for keeping count of hikes along with dates, locations, and interesting finds. This is also a fun way to share hikes with friends since most of my hiking I do is solo style. I’ve frequently found it’s always the hike I leave my camera at home when I see the coolest creatures so now I never go anywhere without it but I do try to keep my social media activity in nature to a minimum. I always wait to record the hike once I’ve returned home.
While the 52 Hike Challenge may not be for everyone, I encourage you to make it a point to get outdoors, find a trail and distance that feels good for you, and walk it! Maybe do it monthly or when you travel but when you’re out there, allow yourself to take it easy and leave your troubles at home. Always be sure to observe your surroundings, pack a snack, and wear sunscreen!
This originally appeared in Wonder & Grow, a blog by Chelsea Collison, one of our former Museum educators.