I've always had a deep appreciation for the outdoors, and moving to New York City has pulled me away from what I consider to be my natural habitat. I'm talking about the crisp mountain air that carries the aroma of hundred-year-old pine trees and the gentle trickling of glacially chilled water over smooth river stones. While I do have a certain fondness for the city, I look forward to my next chance to get away from it all. Here are some reasons you should go take a hike.
1. It's quiet.
Noise is something that defines life in a big city. Now, out in the woods it's hardly ever silent, but what you hear aren't honking horns, screeching breaks ,and shouting cab drivers. The sounds are calming and peaceful instead of violent and mechanical.
2. It's good exercise.
You can go on a walk through the park anywhere, but hiking is a workout for the whole body. Constant elevation change and uneven terrain will help you feel the burn and give you a different kind of fulfillment than running on a treadmill will. At high altitude, the thin air will also raise blood oxygen levels, increasing your endurance more than a similar workout would at sea level.
3. You're forced to forget your troubles.
Life is simpler out in the wilderness. Even if you wanted to check your Email or take a business call, you can't. You're miles from the nearest road, so you can forget cell reception. In the woods, your list of priorities gets a lot smaller, leaving you free to enjoy your surroundings.
4. You'll learn something new.
Even the experienced hikers can say this because they know better than anyone that nothing ever goes as planned on a hike. Maybe you're new to the woods and forget to pack a map, forcing you to use the sun or familiar landmarks to navigate. Or maybe you're an experienced mountaineer and the ice isn't thick enough to traverse with tools, forcing you to find a new route. In any case, you'll have to improvise in some way or another when you go on a hike.
5. You can see the stars at night.
Perhaps the most profound thing that I've noticed about life in the city is that there isn't a star in the sky at night. Take a trip out west to the Rocky Mountains and you'll see a skyline that makes New York look like it's made of Lego bricks. Out there, the air is so unbelievably clear you'll think you can reach out and pluck the stars right out of the sky.
6. You will realize how small we are.
If the clear night sky doesn't do it for you, the sheer vastness of the wilderness will remind you how infinitesimally small you are. For some, this can be unnerving. But, if you belong out there, you'll be invigorated by it. It fills you with wonder and appreciation for this truly enormous planet we share and how unimaginably colossal the universe is. It's more impressive than any Broadway show you'll ever see.
7. Campfires are just awesome.
There's something about the smell and crackle of burning firewood that warms the soul. Building a camp fire is man's most ancient way of making himself at home. The same way suburbanites of today buy IKEA end tables and fake shrubs to decorate their mantle with, the outdoorsmen and women among us will build a modest fire, huddle around it, and watch the flickering orange light dance on each other's faces.
8. The "danger" is thrilling if you're smart.
I'll never tell anyone that spending time in the mountains is completely safe because it isn't. But all you need is a little bit of know-how and common sense to take the perceived danger and be exhilarated by it. The most obvious and important rule is the buddy system. Don't go out alone. The second is to not be foolish. Mother nature has a very low tolerance when it comes to show-offs. Stick to the straight and narrow, use your head, and take your time.
9. Bears are more afraid of you than you are of them.
I promise. Every bear I've bumped into has turned and ran as soon as it saw us. Black bears, which are the most widely encountered by hikers, have killed a total of 61 people on the entire North American continent since 1900. You're 60,000 times more likely to be murdered today on the street than you are by a black bear in the heart of its territory. If you're especially afraid, stay out of the woods during late winter and early spring because that's when the cubs are born.
10. You will become more self-reliant.
I think this is the greatest benefit you can come away with after a weekend in the mountains. When you come down, back to civilization, you have proven to yourself that you can make it without your bed, your phone, and the internet. You cooked food over a fire you built yourself, washed your shirt in the river, and slept with only a thin sheet of nylon between you and the menacing forest. You have conquered the wilderness and that's something you can be proud of.