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boothike

How to like hiking, even when you don't

By Jana Young, Volunteer Hike Leader

Most people either love hiking, or they hate it. There's not much grey area when it comes to charging up a mountain trail. It's either a glorious way to commune with nature, or it's utter punishment inflicted on you by some hiking zealot friend bent on ruining your day off!

I didn't grow up in a hiking family. Our ideas of "hikes" were flat walks around the conservation area. I didn't see a real mountain until my mid-twenties, when I moved to Lake Louise. There I thought I would instantly love hiking. Until I learned the word "switchback." Relentless switchbacks.

The thing about mountains is most hikes start at the bottom. My first hike was disappointing. It was hard. My lungs heaved, sunscreen sweated into my eyes, and my legs tired quickly even though I had just started!

That was the day I learned the rule: the first 20 minutes of every hike sucks.

It wasn't just the switchbacks (although that definitely makes it harder). My body was doing all of the right things. Lungs, sweat, legs... all were working at high capacity because I'd suddenly put them under physical stress. But the miraculous thing about hiking is the stress passes. Just give it 20 minutes and your breathing and legs will adjust to the increased exertion level. It will eventually feel easier even though you're working at the same output.

And that's the lesson. You just gotta get through the first 20 minutes. Do whatever you can to push through. Don't pay too much attention to the struggle. Tell yourself it's normal. Your body is just adjusting. Simply go at a steady pace, feel the pain, but remind yourself that it's only temporary. Then you can crest the hill, take an easier breath, and feel that conquering spirit. You made it.

That's the lesson in hiking, and maybe life. Don't judge a trail by the first 20 minutes. It's not fair to you or the trail. When we stick with stuff that's initially hard (and all new things are naturally hard, if we've never done them before) we're learning perseverance and to speak encouragement to ourselves when the terrain gets inevitably steeper.

"It's not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves." 
Edmund Hillary


Jana Young is the former Executive Director of BCG and current Volunteer Hike Leader. She started the Done in a Day hike in 2011 with her husband Ben and continues to participate every year.