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The benefits of hiking

Valley Voice 23 January 2004

Tony Biegen

So it’s time again for that New Year’s resolution. Time to get in shape, get some exercise, get out more. What’s the best type of exercise? Next time you step out of the shower take a look at yourself in the mirror. Where are your biggest muscles? Okay squint a little and try to imagine without the generous layer of um, uh, let’s call it stored energy. It’s your buttocks, your thighs, your calves. All the muscles related to walking. Our bodies were designed to walk. Walking is something that most people will be able to do for almost their entire lives. You won’t tear a rotator cuff as you will with tennis or break a collar bone as you will with bicycling or ruin your knees as you will with jogging. And you won’t break a tooth as you will with roller hockey.

Hiking is just walking with a better view and a pretty destination. It will get you away from the cars and machines that remind you of all the things you need to do and all the places you need to go. It lets you be who you are in this moment rather than being your job or being what you need to do.

So you’ve decided on hiking. Where do you get started? Well, Santa Barbara is the best place in the world for hiking. Start with beach walks since they are level and in winter the lowest tides of the year afford you great access to tide pools. The Sierra Club sponsored hikes are listed in the News-Press and Independent and are held every Friday night, Saturday and Sunday day hikes and a conditioning hike on Wednesday evening. Check the difficulty of the hike and call the leader for more information to determine if the hike is appropriate for you.

Keep in mind that hiking is likely to change you in ways you hadn’t expected. Many people join the Sierra club hikes to get exercise or to meet people only to find that hiking changes the way that they perceive the world. Hiking keeps you at a speed that forces you to interact with your surroundings - unlike driving a car, riding a bike, or even jogging. Perhaps on a beach walk you’ll notice that the surf is actually made up of four different sounds; the wave breaking, the water rushing up the sand, the effervescence of the foam popping, and the sound of the water slipping back to the sea.

Perhaps on a hike through Fir canyon or along Tequepis trail you’ll see thousands of Ladybugs carpeting a log or on a hike through the Ellwood area you’ll see thousands of Monarch butterflies resting high above in the Eucalyptus trees. Perhaps you’ll see some mule deer, or a rabbit, a bobcat, coyote, bear, or even a California condor. Perhaps you’ll notice that the most beautiful flowers are wildflowers that grow without any aid from humanity. Perhaps you’ll realize that all this is worth saving. And it will change your life.