31 Day Hiking Challenge: What I learned…

After choosing “Verso L’alto” as my “word of the year” I decided to start my year off with a 31 day hiking challenge. (I’ve been sharing my daily hikes on my instagram page if you want more than the pictures I include in this post) I wanted to share a little bit about why I decided to do this and what I learned from 31 days of hiking (almost) daily throughout the month of January…

Tom’s Thumb… this has been on my hiking bucket list since 2018 and I finally made time for it this year.

I decided to commit to a 31 day hiking challenge partially because my usual way of approaching long term work is to front load. This was true in almost all academic settings, it is true in the directing prep I do, and it is true in goals with a specific timeline. Since one of my goals this year is to go on 52 hikes, I figured knocking out 31 of those this early in the year would give me plenty of buffer room when the Phoenix weather starts heating up and hiking becomes extremely uncomfortable or even straight up unsafe during the day, and would also cover for the end of the year when things get chaotic with the holidays.

An even bigger reason I set myself this mini-goal was because I thought it might help with my deep decision fatigue. Since about a year ago when this pandemic was recognized in the US, even before it had become omnipresent and the shutdowns started, I have been making daily, exhausting risk calculations. I still do. But the amount of brain space that takes up means I am absolutely sick of deciding anything else. So I have been trying to minimize decision fatigue in other ways. We meal plan once a week and then I don’t have to think about dinner and we do the same 3 lunches/breakfasts so that the planning and decision making is minimal. With the stress of my son returning to virtual learning and my girls still cooped up in the house most of the time, the idea of self-care and re-setting seemed totally overwhelming so I made an executive decision, with my husband’s support, that I would just make one decision for the whole month of January- hiking would be a way to get out and take care of my body and mind.  It’s not the only coping mechanism, and I believe in cultivating a variety of those (i.e. Hitting my yoga mat has been  the other form of self care for much of last month and now I am working on sleep hygiene and meditation) but it helped to have already have chosen my coping mechanism. Front loading also meant I’d stop putting off certain trails I’ve been wanting to explore forever- every weekend I hit a bucket list trail I might have pushed aside otherwise.

Some of the hikes were as a family, some with just one or two of the kids, and some were solo. Sometimes I didn’t feel like going on them, other times I was counting down the seconds to get out of the door. The one constant was that I knew hiking was on the agenda and was a priority each and every day, so I never had to decide to make it a priority. This helped my decision fatigue immensely and I want to explore other areas of my life where I can eliminate the daily draining decisions so I can save my energy for the important ones.

Here are a few more things I learned over my 31 day hiking challenge:

*Things look different, even the same exact trail, from one day to the next. I have noticed small shifts and such detailed beauty by seeing the same spot at different times of day, from different angles thanks to being on adjacent trails, in different kinds of weather, etc. It has made me remember the beauty of what I like to call “Our Town Moments” where you realize the beauty of the ordinary and of every, every minute not just on the trail but also in our cloistered, quarantined life.

*Comparison is still a struggle for me. The weird thing is, I’m almost never comparing myself to other people. When I find myself berating myself for not doing a good or impressive enough job, it is usually compared to the ideal I have in my head that doesn’t actually exist. So sometimes in those 31 days I felt like I wasn’t doing hard or impressive enough trails or didn’t have enough variety… but I was doing what works for my life situation and family, and hiking 31 days in a row took enough planning (and help/sacrifice from my husband!) so it is insane to compare myself to this super hiker in my head who can trek off to a national park every weekend.

*Progress not perfection: This is, of course, my constant refrain as a recovering perfectionist. It was put to the test quite a few times during my 31 day challenge when plans didn’t go according to plan. The
biggest example was when I missed a day due to being totally out of commission from mastitis. It is actually a huge sign of personal growth that I didn’t beat myself up for missing that day or, even worse, try to hike a trail in my painful delirium just to have a “perfect record” for a challenge I made up! Instead, I told myself I’d make up that day on February 1st. The same thing happened when we went up north to see snow and only completed about 1/4 of the trail we’d planned. Part of me felt like I had to go out and do another trail that day but we’d already spent so much of the day in the car that hubby was super grumpy at the suggestion I go out again, especially with the rainstorms we were getting so I thought about the point of the challenge- get outside, move my body, enjoy nature… we had done all that! In a very special way! Even if we didn’t finish the trail, the spirit of the challenge was fulfilled. I had a lot more fun because I embraced progress not perfection.

*Hiking provoked SO MANY THOUGHTS and so much creativity. I found myself very glad to have my phone handy and jotted down a few notes on the trails many days- sometimes they made no sense a few hours later and other times they became part of what I put in an instagram post or a conversation to a friend. Others are still in my notes app ready to be transformed into blog posts or scripts or who knows what else! It has been so good to feel this part of my brain gear up again after worrying I had lost my creative spark during this pandemic. So that’s how I’ll close this, I have more ideas to share in the days to come thanks getting out on the trails and clearing my head and letting my mind wander a bit!

More pretty pictures and more thoughts to come… Have you ever done a 31 day hiking challenge? Or a different 31 day challenge?

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