Hike Yourself Happy

Llama at Machu Picchu
Found these guys while trekking to Machu Picchu

Dislike traditional exercise? Same! In fact, I never made it further than netball subs, and played volleyball like a robot (literally – my friend and I gave up and made our own game. We won of course, everything except our coach’s approval). People say that they enjoy running, I’ve never experienced anything but “I don’t want to be doing this.”

Hiking is my super sport that gets me motivated and loving life. It’s a fun alternative you may not have considered. Imagine working out as you sight-see, doing so individually for thinking time or with others for creative conversations, and it doesn’t involve running or much coordination. I love this energising, motivating exercise because I get to walk, think, climb, view nature’s wonders, chat and sing songs too loudly and badly through forests to my heart’s content. Perfect!

Now, If somebody told me 6 months ago that I can actually enjoy walking up a hill, I’d have told them that they’re nuts. In April this year I visited Peru and climbed a 1000 metre canyon in 1 day. It was steep and I shuffled like a penguin the whole way up, tripping over many times, feeling embarrassed as others passed me. It took me 6 hours (3.5 hours they told me!). I finished feeling exhausted, but what I can tell you is that the feeling at the end is incredible. This was my first hike, and it was 3 days long. It started with tears of self-doubt but by the end I was hooked. I wanted more, and set my sights on bigger and better things. In May I was hiking the world’s second highest mountain range, La Cordillera Blanca, Peru. There I was at nearly 5,000 metres above sea level, hiking 8 hours a day, visiting glaciers and staring at the neighbouring mountains still above me. This time I was the one with energy and rhythm, passing others on the path. The best part is that they were treks with other backpackers and we made some wonderful lifelong memories. Nothing like making friends while you walk 🙂 the conversation never dries up with so many interesting sights and beautiful nature around you.

Colca Canyon, Peru
1000 metres up, complete! Chocolate time now
Laguna Churup, Peru
The hard work is always worth the reward

What can this activity give me?

Many things luckily.

Firstly, cool views

Hiking is popular because you walk through incredible scenery and get to see nature up close and personal. There are glaciers to see, beaches to find, forests to camp in and rivers to cross. It doesn’t have to be hills or multi-days. Start off with a 2 hour trek close to home and see how you find it. You may hate it on your first go (but don’t give up there!), but most likely you’ll buzz from those endorphins and feelings of accomplishment, and wish it were longer!

On the Santa Cruz trek, Peru
During the Santa Cruz trek, in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca

A braver, happier you

Trekking helped me to gain a lot of confidence. As I said, what started in tears of self-doubt and pessimistic thinking ended in an overwhelming sense of achievement. I was happy to see sights and animals I could not have otherwise, to push myself harder and will myself to keep going (“there is chocolate at the end, goddamnit!”). I got to see foxes, birds, rapids, mountains, peaks and glaciers.

Pastoururi Glacier, Peru
Cool place but it’s a shame about the rate of retreat

Fitness without really noticing it

Fitness improves quickly. I was doing things I didn’t know my body was capable of in only a few months of practice. I was getting faster, higher, stronger and happier. Suddenly 4,500m above sea level felt like a breeze (in fact, quite often it was unfortunately – a cold, icy breeze, accompanied with rain). It was cool to see how committed training really does change your body. I had never stuck at much before so this was awesome. Yeah muscles! If I can do this, you can too 🙂

En route to Laguna Churup, Peru
Climbing? I’m a fan

You-time and space to think

The peacefulness of walking and getting lost in thoughts was one of my favourite parts and I’m sure many of you would love this too. My brain was pumping with ideas, solutions, deep thinking. After the “my legs hurt” stage, they were the type of thoughts that demanded attention and left you feeling motivated to act on them. It’s lovely to focus and think clearly, with ample “you” time. Combined with exercise? Seems like a winning concurrence to me.

Jungle trek to Machu Picchu
On the Inca Trail through the jungle, after trying local jungle alcohols, coffee, chocolate and chewing coca leaves that are eventually used to make cocaine. When in Peru…

New, life-long friends

Social aspects were definitely a plus. Conversation seems to flow easier when you are walking, it feels more natural than sitting opposite and getting to know a stranger for an hour or two. You learn about those walking with you a lot quicker in my opinion – what strikes their attention? What are they finding hard? Are they the encouraging type of person? I often find the meaningful connections happen faster while sharing a challenge with someone new.

Santa Cruz trek, Peru
It’s hard not to make friends when you look this ridiculous and are being follwed by a donkey 😀

I hope I’ve managed to convince you to give it a go. Remember, start small and pick hikes with rewards at the end, like swimming-holes or snowball fights (okay, or chocolate, let’s be honest). I can’t wait to get back to New Zealand and walk the Heaphy track with Emma and three other special people in December!

Happy hiking!
Penny x


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