Friday change of pace: The joy of walking

When people tell me to “Go take a hike” (it does happen frequently), I assume they’re looking out for my health, rather than insulting me.

When I was young, I did a lot of walking, but it seemed it was always to get somewhere. My parents had 10 kids and for many years just one car – which was in high demand. So I didn’t have a lot of motorized transportation to get where I wanted to go.

So I walked – a lot. To visit my friends, go to a store, get to the best fishing hole or to scare up a pheasant. Walking itself wasn’t the point. Walking was a means to an end. I loved to hike in the mountains, but even hiking was generally done with a destination or goal in mind—a fishing lake or mountain pass, a spectacular view, or to rack up high miles to brag about.

Today, I walk just to walk. Just for the sheer joy of being upright and putting one foot in front of the other. To breathe fresh air and get the heart beating. I walk happily without a particular destination or major goal. It’s good to get a little distance, but the fun is the walking itself, enjoying the scenery and solitude. Walking has become an end unto itself.

I particularly enjoy walking at the family farm, with the dogs running out ahead, exploring the creek, the rock piles and tangles of branches, pouncing on a mouse. We occasionally see deer, moose, beaver, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and hawks that soar above the cliffs or glide low along the pastures.

The great thing about living in Utah is that no one is more than 5 or 10 minutes from some great places to walk. We have trails, canyons, parks, streams, mountains, bird refuges, deserts and dirt roads galore. More and more great trails are being developed. Sure, you can walk the neighborhood streets. That’s great. But look around a bit and you’ll find some really fun places to walk where you can enjoy nature.

Spending time in nature has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and help put the crazy world into perspective.

A vigorous hike not only keeps me in shape, but cleans out the cobwebs, gives me some time alone to think, and provides a fresh perspective on life. I do my best thinking while walking.

Everyone needs a break periodically from the frenzy of government, politics and business. For all of you workaholics out there who seldom get outside the asphalt and glass, this is not an insult:  GO TAKE A HIKE!

(This is a previously published essay, updated.)