As a hiker who loves the Lake District and who is also an introvert I can relate to Wainwright a big way. If you have never heard of this remarkable man then here is a cracking BBC documentary about him. One of the great things about him was his legendary introversion, as evidenced by the fact that he told his second wife that she was allowed to hike with him as long as she did not talk!
In all seriousness, I genuinely believe that introverts can benefit enormously from hiking. I love a few team sports as a spectator, notably ice hockey, football and cricket. I am not so keen on things like track and field, American football or rugby. In fact egg chasers in general I find pretty boring. Additionally I am absolutely baffled by The Olympics. I just have no interest in the festival of running and jumping whatsoever and I cannot for the life of me see what the big deal is. I have nothing against it however. If that is your bag then crack on and lap it up to your heart’s content but I won’t be found within a country mile of anything like that.
Unsurprisingly I enjoy solitary pursuits, or, where there are others involved, activities with just a few other participants and which are not team-based. I love cycling, both on and off road, I love trail running and I love hiking. Not walking, although that is fun too, rather I refer to hiking specifically. Below are my reasons.
1. Nature is liberating
When in the middle of nowhere one is liberated of social obligations. Whenever I go anywhere with people I feel as though I am going into battle. During an ill-advised time in my life when I would use a gym I had to take my headphones, Kindle and when not lifting I would stare at my book or feet. Even with all of those ‘get lost’ signals broadcasting from me I still had to utilise phatic communication to handle people who clearly could not take the mother of all hints. This led me to conclude that repetitious exercise is for lackies. Outside is for kings.
2. Resilience is found in exertion, not resistance
Resistance exercise is all very well and good, but I will see your 250kg bench press and raise you one all day long outdoor hike climbing three mountains in a rainstorm. Hormesis, i.e. whatever does not kill you makes you stronger, is real and if you want to become truly strong then go climb a mountain or three. Bonus points if you do it with rain dripping off the end of your nose or in freezing conditions. Aside from the fact that this is inherently better than lifting weights, there is good reasoning behind my opinion.
When you lift weights you just work hard in a single dimension. You push resistively along a single axis. Not only boring, but suboptimal. If you go hiking the more challenging parts like scrambling over limestone pavement or up a steep mountains face make you exert yourself in a three dimensional fashion, along, X, Y and Z axes. Trust me, your body will let you know when you have done that. Not only are you exerting yourself against gravity, you also twist and turn your body on all three dimensional axes. This is simply the best workout you can get. Instead of being some lumbering meathead who can pick up heavy things and put them down again, your physique will be carved out of reality, forged by nature.
3. Your ego will be tempered
When you hike over mountains that are ancient and which will outlast you by millennia you cannot help but feel small. I have long since accepted that the planet does not give a damn about me and that I am just an interloper passing through. The best I can say is that I did not inherit the world from my ancestors, I borrowed it from the species and civilisations that are yet to come.
4. You must respect the land and know your fragility
Planning a day hike, or an overnight camp teaches you things. The simple act of figuring out how to survive is instructive. Taking your own water? Get ready to carry it for miles. Using natural water sources? Work out how to avoid catching leptospirosis. What will you eat, how will you carry it how much is enough?
Outdoor life done correctly is far more impressive to sustain than picking up the heavy things, chugging protein drinks and taking enough laxative to ensure that even a tiny fart leaves a filthy wet skid mark in your pants.
5. Your mental well-being will soar
The majesty and glory of nature feeds the soul and salves the mind. I seriously contend that there are emotions and physical sensations that cannot be attained anywhere but in the middle of nowhere. Looking down at the world from the top of a mountain is a stimulus that cannot be simulated or reproduced. The only way you can know that is to earn the right to feel it, and there is only one way to do that.
The response of the human psyche to the stimuli found outside is like bathing in beauty. I wish I could bottle it. Since I cannot I have to consistently experience it.