Before Christmas, I embarked on a new project. Normally this is cause for concern, as I tend to dive into new ventures and burn out quickly. This one is different: its whole purpose is to help me deal with the restless dissatisfaction I’ve been feeling for the past few months. I’ve been taking long hikes in the beautiful countryside that surrounds our home. And I’ve been doing it all alone.
I’ve always enjoyed being alone, and find I often need periods of solitude to recharge my batteries. Combining alone-time with walking in nature is doing wonders for my mental and physical health. I’m learning new skills and becoming more comfortable with my own company. My friends think I’m bonkers and my husband is mildly concerned, but this is one project I’m determined to keep up.
Here are some of my favourite things about solo hiking:
Time to reconnect with nature (and myself)
I’ve always loved spending time in nature, from the beaches of my childhood to the rolling green hills of my current home. I find that it quickly quietens my mind and lifts my spirits. My enjoyment of the outdoors has deepened since I stopped working 9-5 and started spending lots of time outside with my children. Running helps, but I still run mostly on roads in our suburban environment. When hiking, I can drive to a
I also like being alone (did I mention that?). With each step, my thoughts slow down, my breath deepens, and I calm down. It’s the same with running solo; these pockets of solitude recharge my energy for interaction with the outside world.
Learning new things
I quickly realised that my navigating skills left a lot to be desired. When hiking, safely is my priority and I’m not safe if I can’t find my way around. On my first solo hike, my phone battery very nearly died – along with my only map. I now go out with a power bank as well as a paper map!
I’m also figuring out how to use Ordnance Survey maps. I really enjoy learning, and every time I do a little bit of map-reading, I’m thrilled at my newfound skills. Last week I spent an evening plotting two new routes on a gigantic OS map I picked up at Waterstones. I feel capable and resilient knowing that I’ll be able to follow the routes on my next trip.
Getting comfortable with uncertainty and fear
Because I’m me, I’m unable to do anything without some mishaps occurring. One time, I veered off the trail and tumbled off a rocky cliff into ferns and rocks. Luckily, I had just enough upper body strength to climb back up again – after a couple of minutes of lying sprawled out thinking ‘oh crap, nobody knows I’m here.’
Two weeks ago I got stuck in a really, really boggy patch of woodland trying desperately to find the right of way without sinking entirely into the mud. I felt my body starting to panic: breath quickening, heart racing, thinking ‘I can’t get out of here, I’m going to be stuck.’
Both times, I started to lose control of my mind and thoughts, but – here’s the crucial bit – I got it back. As a rule, I’m not comfortable with uncertainty, let alone full-on fear, but with every sticky situation I get myself out of, my mind becomes stronger and my confidence grows.
Reflecting on what matters to me
Henry David Thoreau said: “Methinks that the moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow.” This is definitely true for me, especially when I’m alone in nature. My mind slows and my thoughts become sharper without me ruminating on them. Being outside and exercising, whether hiking or running, helps me to quietly reflect on what is important to me, and figure out how I can keep more of that in my life.
I have never considered myself sporty, although I’ve always enjoyed outdoor activities. In the last four years, I’ve taken up running and completed longer and longer distances. It always surprises me that my legs and lungs can carry me for miles.
Hiking is the same: I can walk long distances (with the correct footwear), over uneven terrain. I can climb steep gradients and rocky outcrops. I can get myself out of difficulty using my physical strength. Hiking alone, I can cover much more distance than I can with my children. And each time my body does something awesome, it
Hiking safety: https://www.ramblers.org.uk/advice/safety.aspx
Walks and routes: https://www.walkingenglishman.com