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Hiking can be a voyage of discovery

Spending time outside, whether gardening or hiking, is just plain good for you.

Hiking and walking have been called moving meditations because they enable people to relax.

When I hike, it’s usually a slow process – walk, check out a plant, take a photo, take notes, repeat the process.

Even if I’m on the trails for five or six hours, I rarely walk more than three or four miles. If I’m alone, I always make sure someone knows where I’m going and when I should be home. Sometimes I even stop in the office of a favorite state park and let them know I’m out and about and when I should be back. While this may seem cowardly, on at least one occasion, it kept me out of trouble. Yes, unexpected things can happen on any trail.

I have a friend in New Mexico, however, who takes a very different approach to hiking. She does what I would call extreme hiking, fool-hardy even.

It all began when she was taking care of elderly parents and trying to sort some family problems of her own. She was stressed to the max and began taking long, solitary hikes to clear her head. At first, her hikes were all about the miles covered, but then she began noticing the wildflowers and insects. She began taking lots of photos with her cell phone and sharing them with friends. They, of course, wanted to know the identity of everything, so she started reading field guides and doing online research.

Along the way, she had some adventures. There was the day she was pursued by a group of drunk hunters and had to hide in an old, animal den. I suspect that I would have been just as afraid of what might have been in the den as I was of the hunters. She began to drive several hours from her home so she could pursue higher mountain trails. And I’m using the term trail very loosely. I’ve seen what she calls a trail, and it’s just a bunch of rocks. She hiked in ice and snow and unbearable heat.

Along the way, she changed. She discovered she was very confident of her ability to take care of herself. She learned she could push herself physically to keep going well beyond what she thought was possible. She also learned she’s an artist, a talent that she never thought she had. Yes, she has a special point of view when she’s photographing plants – lots of detail, interesting angles, and colors that pop. She’s still taking all of her photos with her cell phone and is proof that equipment isn’t nearly as important as the human brain. Most important of all, she’s relaxed. She can’t change the bone-crushing stress of taking care of her parents, but she’s been able to change the way she reacts to it.

While my friend’s extreme approach to hiking won’t work for me, there are lessons there for all of us. Spending time with Mother Nature is a great way to recharge, relax, and learn about yourself.

Hiking can, indeed, be a voyage of self discovery.

DR. CYNTHIA WOOD is a master gardener who writes two column’s for The Herald. She can be reached at cynthia.crewe23930@gmail.com.