It started in the staff room. A couple of the boys from work and I were chatting about getting away from the city as soon as work finished for the year. We packed up the cars and enjoyed a windswept couple of nights a stone’s throw from Sheoak River on the Great Ocean Road. The following year, we were one more, but this time making the seven hour road-trip up and over the Divide to Mitta Mitta and a beautiful, quiet spot right on the river, 45 minutes drive from the back of beyond on the Omeo Road. I fell in love with the bush again through these two trips. But I wanted more. I began to gather some basic equipment and prepared myself to be a camper. But still I wanted more. I wanted to get out there and explore. I needed to hike.
Sometimes when you manifest something enough in your thoughts and your actions, your wishes are fulfilled. It doesn’t happen all that often, but… this time it did. I found myself a hiking buddy. Sure, I could have hiked alone, but there’s not much better than being able to experience nature with a kindred spirit. Of course it’s great for physical health, but it promotes mindfulness and nourishes the heart and soul, in a way that you just can’t find when you’re surrounded by concrete and cars.
In hiking I have found a way to be present and mindful without having to worry about catching myself thinking. My first hiking experience (in recent memory, not ever!) was with my new hiking buddy, and while we hadn’t picked the most picturesque place to walk, we found our mindfulness in getting to know one another. A walk through a quiet forest is an incredible place to have a conversation… there’s always something new to see, something new to talk about. And when there isn’t, you can just talk about life, knowing that the only other bipeds you’ll come across are probably just doing the same thing. So it’s a matter of a quick and cheery ‘Good morning!’ and then on with the experience!
Possibly the biggest difficulty I have faced during the course of my hikes is my fear of heights. Heights are something that have gradually crept up on me as the years have gone by. There was a time when I could sit in the top tier of our massive stadium here in Melbourne and cheer on my team without a second thought. There was a time when I had no difficulty riding in the cable car at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, apparently unaware of the significant drop below. I’m not sure what happened, but my mind has made me become more conservative in my ability to take risks over the years. It won’t let me do the things I so desperately want to do. It has happened now more than once that I have insisted my hiking buddy go on all the way to the summit, leaving me behind to ponder my inability to overcome my fear. This will change. I am determined to reach each of the summits I have failed to ascend so far, and hopefully many more. It is so incredibly disappointing to climb the vast majority of the mountain, only to falter at the last hurdle.
But I digress. Nature is simply beauty. And beauty brings calm and peace to the soul. The joy of finding a perfect wildflower or spotting a blue-tongued lizard by the side of the path. The wonder of spotting a pack of grazing roos or a bower bird’s mound. Stumbling upon these things by accident, simply because you made the effort to pack up the car and explore somewhere new, is something to be felt in the heart.
Harvard Health says much more than this vague reflection of serendipitous joy. Getting out in the great outdoors has some scientifically proven health benefits too! Naturally, spending more time in the natural light of the sun, your intake of vitamin D will increase. Vitamin D is thought to improve your body’s ability to fight off a range of illnesses. While long exposure to the sun should be mediated by using a good sunscreen, short periods without sunscreen are ok too. It’s a fine balance, but it seems an important one.HH also notes that you’ll feel happier, will have improved concentration and of course, if you’re hiking, then you’re getting exercise. There’s been a clear acknowledgement of the link between exercise and good mental health in recent years, particularly for men. They also note that some studies have shown that exposure to natural light can promote improved healing. If you’d like to read their article, click here.
Finally, finding a hiking buddy (or hiking buddies!) has become so much easier these days. There are many Facebook groups to join for advice on gear and destinations. There are literally hundreds of Instagrams with images of beautiful places across our wide, brown land. And there are MeetMe groups where you can join hikes, even as a first timer. Nature is healing. I encourage you to get out in it. Even if it’s just for a few hours or a day. Pack up some lunch, drive for an hour and wander (on a path!) into the woods.