Here's to Real Connection: Why I'm Choosing to Hike More This Year
by Carissa McQueen, Girls Who Hike Central Coast Ambassador
On most days, my world ends a foot, foot-and-a-half, from my own nose. It’s rectangular, this world, defined by the edges of my phone screen, or, on a good day, the large 27 inch iMac I sometimes get to use at the office.
On most days, my eyes are downcast, my shoulders soften ever so slightly forward, and my hands interact only with glass and silicone. Arms to hold my phone steady a foot in front of me, to hold my steering wheel steady a foot in front of me, to hold my ergonomic mouse a foot in front of me.
On most days, my dancer’s legs are confined to a chair, turning the ephemeral “lap” into an ever-present feature of my small, closed world.
And then there’s days like this day. I drove thirty minutes to the trailhead (it should have taken 15, but I was determined not to use my sleek handheld gps miracle of modernity). I fussed with my new boots, my hiking snacks, my Ten Essentials, my hip-belt hydration pack, and smeared chemical free organic sunscreen across my face and shoulders. I grabbed my trekking pole. I tossed my phone in the glovebox and glanced at my $15 digital watch instead. Then I walked away from my car.
I walked with short steps, that habitual lap falling reluctantly to the ground in front of me. My head bowed, eyes settling just a bit ahead of my feet, expecting to see something besides trail dirt. Shoulders settled round and forward, not working to hold anything in place, but expecting nonetheless this default position. My calves tightened just walking the few yards to grab a map of the well-traversed park I was about to enter.
Then I took a really deep breath. I raised my eyes from my shoes, to the trail, to the classic winter chaparral scenery spread out before me. I rolled my shoulders back, feeling the muscles and tendons stretch in a direction they barely remembered. I lengthened my steps and started down the trail proper.
And then I did something else. I said “Hello”.
To a stranger.
There’s something about getting out into the hills that flips a switch in my mind. That small world I live in day-to-day is suddenly so expansive. Perhaps I say I like hiking because it “helps me connect with nature”, and perhaps you say that too. But that isn’t really the reason, is it?
We like hiking because it helps us connect with ourselves. And in that quiet confidence of self, we can connect fearlessly with others on the trail.
Sometimes it’s a simple “hello”, “good evening”, or “cheers!”. Other times we may pause a few seconds to exchange pleasantries. (“The loop is cut off, too much overgrowth” or “My goodness, what a vista! Have you been here before?”) And of course there’s always the traditional hiker’s greeting: “Don’t worry, you’re almost there!” Called out by well-wishers who know for a fact that “almost” nearly always means “you’re nowhere near the peak”.
We all talk to fellow hikers in a way we rarely talk to other strangers in our lives.
No matter how networked we are now, those interactions spinning under our thumbs are not the world. Those connections are only part of the equation. The real magic happens when we step outside, raise our chins, and meet others who love the dusty dry smell of white sage just as much as we do
By the end of my brief two-mile hike in Newbury Park, I felt full of new energy and felt part of the community in a way I hadn’t in some time. I wanted to share this with the world so everybody could know how incredible a day I just had! And so I grabbed my phone. I got sucked back in. My eyes, so recently dazzled by an exquisite late December blue sky, compared instead which filter to use on my photo. My posture slumped and my legs went stiff. And then I sat in my car and composed most of this blog post in my head, feeling a strange mixture of post-hike endorphins and a seeping melancholy about the realities of millennial adulthood.
The more we hike, or do anything that requires us to disconnect from modernity and reconnect with nature, the longer that natural high lingers. We become friendlier, happier people, and we reach past the screen-versions of our friends to connect with them in real and honest ways. That’s why I joined Girls Who Hike, to capture this feeling of realness more often.
Can’t wait to see you on the trails in the year ahead.