I have a very vivid memory of standing in my friend's kitchen in Astoria back when I was living in New York City. Her then boyfriend (now husband) was just staring at me with a confused look on his face. He finally explained "I just realized that, until this moment, I had no idea how short you were. I don't think I've ever seen you not wearing heels."
My physical height may be 5'2", but inside, I feel like I'm 5'9". I've always welcomed every physical inch I could add and for most of my twenties, I treated a pair of heels the way some women treat mascara: I never left the house without them. But something has shifted since I turned the corner into my 30s and moved out west. While I still love my stilettos, I've found that I feel much more me on a trail than in a boardroom.
Over the years, especially when my work-life balance was thrown completely off, I found my body craved the great outdoors. I'm increasingly desperate to be anywhere I can trade in fluorescent lighting for sunlight and popcorn ceilings for blue skies and tree branches. These days, I feel the most me with dirt on my socks and a map in my backpack.
I treat hiking as a walking meditation. When I'm on the trail, everything else just melts away, and I'm finally truly present. Especially when I'm exploring a new trail or park, everything I encounter I get to see for the first time, which grounds me in the present moment. As I'm walking, I can't help but be mindful. Of the twists and turns of the terrain before me. Of the trees and branches to my left and right. Of the birds foraging for food in the brush. Of the clouds as they glide across the sun. Of how my body feels as I ascend and descend, of my breath as I climb up and over rocks or down into a dry arroyo. All that I have to focus on is breath and where I am at that exact moment, and it's wonderful.
There's some pretty good research that lauds the benefits of my new passion:
One of my intentions for 2018 is to incorporate hiking (and just being outdoors in general) into a regular practice, as opposed to how I've treated it in the past (as spiritual CPR). Thankfully in Phoenix, we enjoy perfect weather 9/12s of the year and we live within a few hours drive of some of the most amazing hiking spots in the country.
Last week, I spent a couple days in Tuscon exploring Saguro National Park. Saguro (pronounced sah-WAH-row) is a land of extremes. In the summer, park temps can hit in excess of 105 degrees and it's a dry heat, which means any little trace of moisture evaporates almost immediately. A godsend for those who hate being sweaty (*raises hand*) but a curse for those who don't drink enough water (*raises hand again*). And those namesake saguaro cacti? While very pretty and very tall, they provide little to no shade. The days I visited the thermometer only hit about 70, but with the cloudless sky and the no shade and the dry air, it felt much warmer. I drank far more water on my 2-mile hike there than I have on far longer hikes in similar terrain in other parts of Arizona. #sonorandesertproblems
There are also two primary types of trails in the park: short, paved, and handicapped-accessible and long, dry and rugged. Day 1, I wanted to hike at least part of the Hugh Norris trail. It's 2.6 miles to where the trail intersects with the Sendero Esperanza Trail, another 1.9 to Amole Peak, and finally, another .3 to Wasson Peak, so about 10 miles there and back. The trail begins and ends with steep crisscrossing sections of switchbacks as you ascend up the ridge...and I actually had to cut my hike short because I had finished the majority of my water after this first mile of steep incline #trailfail Even though I knew the trail would flatten out substantially in the middle, I also knew I wasn't prepared to hike the whole thing safely and comfortably. The complication? I had forgotten my hiking pack back at my apartment in Phoenix. It's light and sleek but can easily carry 4-5 quarts of water. I was making due with a tiny faux-leather backpack I had found at Target that barely accommodated three 16 oz bottles. I was at least able to ascend the first ridge, though, and have definitely marked this hike as "to be continued..."
I spent the rest of my trip strolling shorter trails like the Desert Ecology Trail in the Eastern section of the park and the Valley View Overlook Trail in the West, sipping on lime La Croix, trying to spot lizards and Gila monsters. I saw plenty of the former and none of the latter (boo). I also saw four chipmunks and zero white-nosed coati (again, boo), so my wildlife spotting game was weak overall. That said, I did have a chance to take in the petroglyphs left by Hohokam people that date back to somewhere between 450-1450 CE, as well as view a ridiculous variety of species of cacti, so overall, not a bad couple days ☀️🌵🌵☀️