Not Hiking is Killing You

This is a guest post from Aaron over at Free Range Hiking

Hiking is an all-around great workout. Walking is one of the most beneficial exercises that you can do for hearth health according to the American Heart Association, when you add a weighted pack into the mix as well as negotiating (sometimes) strenuous paths in the forest the benefits only increase. But even knowing all that, we still find ways to put that next hiking trip on the back burner in favor of less strenuous activity. So here are eight reasons that putting off that next hiking trip is probably killing you.

  1. Heart Disease. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in men and women over age 40, much of this owing to our increasingly bad diets and a tendency to get less and less physical exercise as we age. The more we sit and watch television, grab artery clogging fast food and generally avoid strenuous activity, the higher our risk of heart disease climbs. But, hiking is one of the best cardio workout around. Nothing gets your blood pumping like carrying extra weight on your back and negotiating fallen trees, mountain paths and burbling streams with views so beautiful, you’ll forget that you’re exercising. So not only will your eyes thank you for going on that trip you’ve been putting off, your heart will too.
  2. Blood Pressure/ Blood Sugar. High blood pressure and irregular blood sugar are becoming more and more common with younger and younger patients every year. We have an endless supply of starchy, sugary snacks at our fingertips and more and more series piling up on our “binge list” on Netflix. This combination of bad habits can lead to a few extra pounds piling on before you even realize it and aside from bad eating habits and lack of exercise (I hope you’re seeing a pattern here) excess body weight is the leading cause of high blood pressure and those bad habits going on for too long can wreak havoc on your pancreas, eventually leading to irregular blood sugar or even Type 2 Diabetes. But, one of the best ways to drive off high blood pressure and blood sugar problems is to start living a healthier lifestyle by eating better and getting more exercise. So instead of reaching for that soda and binge watching the next season of The Walking Dead, grab a bottle of water, some of your favorite trail snacks and head out for a short hike instead.
  3. Weak Bones. As we grow older our bodies naturally stop funneling calcium into our bones. A problem that is further compounded for women who have children, because a growing baby will leach the calcium out of their mothers bones if not enough is present in her diet. Inactivity also leads to decreased bone density, which in turn makes it easier to break bones in the event of a fall or other minor accident. But weight bearing exercise is a great way to increase bone density. When our muscles are forced to lift or bear more weight than what they are used to, our bones are forced to support greater weight loads, so our bodies increase our bone density to accommodate the increased load bearing needs. This is why Doctors tell people with bone density problems to begin lifting free weights. But instead of heading to the gym and lifting weights, backpackers carry that weight in their packs.
  4. Weak legs. Much like the stomach and arms, the legs tend to be one of the first areas that our body looks to store excess body fat. Extra leg and butt fat is less than flattering and are two of the areas that most people wish they could shape and change. Smaller leg muscles and excess body fat in this area also contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. However, increasing the size of your leg muscles by walking with a weighted pack will help you trim away the excess fat from your legs and butt, and is also good for your heart. Many of the largest muscle groups in your body are in your legs. Your hamstrings, glutes and quads move a lot of blood when they are active. This blood has to be moved by the heart, causing an increased heart rate and improving heart health. It also leads to strong, good looking legs, and who doesn’t want that?
  5. Weaker core muscles. Your core muscles, i.e. you abs, obliques, hip flexors and back muscles, affect every movement we make in our daily lives. If you’ve ever done an intense core workout, you likely became painfully aware of just how much you use your core in the days following. Not only does a strong core help balance and stability, it also leads decreases your chance of heart disease, diabetes and a long list of other maladies. The opposite is also true, a weak core burns less fat as fuel, makes hernia-type injuries more likely to occur, leads to unflattering belly fat and makes you more susceptible to a laundry list of chronic preventable disease. But, shouldering a weighted pack and navigating your favorite trail passively builds up these muscles groups by holding the weight securely in place while you maneuver with your legs. Carrying weight long distances will quickly build up your core muscles.
  6. Poor Coordination. We gain absolutely nothing from watching television or sitting around the house. We lose time, gain weight and miss out on cool opportunities to make unforgettable memories. Walking on flat, level ground all the time lulls us into a false sense of security and leads to weaker auxiliary muscles in our legs and core that help up maintain our balance when we’re negotiating difficult terrain or maneuvering over boulders, fallen trees or unstable rocks. But hiking forces us to move over difficult terrain, often up and down gradual to step slopes and across all sorts of rocks, boulders, tree roots, branches, water hazards and undergrowth. This forces our minds and bodies to think and act quickly and builds cognitive awareness that increases our balance.
  7. Excess body fat. Being sedentary in our daily lives leads to a quick increase in body fat. Any time we don’t burn what we eat, we put on weight in the form of excess body fat and while it is not detrimental to have a little extra body fat, obesity is one of the most deadly chronic diseases in America and thousands more a year are falling into its clutches due to more and more people living sedentary lifestyles. But it’s no secret that hiking burns calories, thru hikers on the AT often lose between 20-50 pounds on the trail, and many are in great shape when they start. With a loaded pack and on moderate to difficult terrain a hiker can burn well north of 3000 calories in a day. Even a one to two hour hike can burn between 800-2000 calories depending on your body weight, the weight in your pack, and the difficulty of the route you’re on.
  8. Psychological health. We’re biologically designed to live in nature. We’ve evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to find our homeostasis in an outdoor environment. So naturally, when we’re deprived of the environment that our bodies developed to live in, we begin to see negative effects on our psyche and mental health. Because our ancestors lived for so long in the wilderness environment, many of the aspects of being outdoors effect our well being. They became basic needs over a very long time, basic needs that are no longer met by our man made environments. Another basic need that is not met as often as it was in decades and centuries passed is our connection to the community. Human beings are social creatures, but outside of our immediate families, people rarely get outside human interaction anymore. Society teaches us that we should be staying in and consuming artificial entertainment by ourselves or with a few members of our immediate family instead of going out with friends to seek entertainment outside of the home. Hiking is a great past time that only gets better when you include friends. Sitting by a campfire, having a few adult beverages and laughing and talking with friends is a great way to satisfy our need for human interaction and to be out in nature. This is a great way to get your blood pumping and stave off depression. Additionally, getting out and hiking and camping on your own or with close friends is a great way to build confidence in your ability to provide for and take care of yourself in harsh or uncomfortably situations. This builds confidence in what we can do, and helps alleviate anxiety.

So with all of the benefits that hiking brings to the table, extending our life, making us stronger and staving off depression and anxiety. Why do we continue to put off those next hikes? Do we really have anything more important to do? Probably not, so the next time you think of putting off that next hiking trip, remember all of the benefits that you’re passing up.


Holding down the booth


Blatantly lifted from

Today, I’m volunteering at the Indiana Trails Community (ITC) vendor booth at the Ford Indianapolis Boat Sport and Travel Show at the Indiana State Fairground. Stop by and say high if you’re at the show or in the area, we’ll be in the “quiet sports” section.

There are a lot of great local organizations focused on getting into The Great Outdoors (TM) at the travel show, like Indiana Trails, the Indianapolis Hiking Club, the Central Indiana Wilderness Club. Yes, there is a lot of buying and selling going on, but the crowds allow us one of the biggest annual opportunities to put the word out about the great work we do. Advocating for and building multi-use, non-motorized trails in the state.

Three commitments

Here we go again, as they say! I’m publicly committing myself to three consecutive goals this year, in reparation for my utter lack of seriousness in bikeworthiness. The first is a prep for the second, and the second for the third. The gist is I’ll again be riding my bike every day. I miss it, but I’ve gotten bikelazy.

All of this is leading up to the National Bike Challenge held every year from May through September. Almost half of a year. Many people, to get into the habit for that, also do the precursor #thirtydaysofbiking, which is a commitment to ride every day in April. I’m adding March to that, to get ready for April. So you’ll be able to cassh me ousside, howbowdah?

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be transporting one of my bikes to Bloomington where I work, so that I can ride it around campus as I meet with my building managers, and get together all of the kit I’ll need.

To keep all of you up to date on how well I succeed or fail each day, I’ll be incorporating a feature called BEDposts. These will be short, daily videos from the bike, or literally, “bike every day posts.” I’ve included one of the last BEDposts I uploaded, back when I was still getting on the bike every day, so you’ll know what to expect.

Be looking for them, and I’ll be looking for you in the comments.

Here’s to being small, slow, and happy…on a bike!

Brain dump – part two

Now that you’re on your way to having your brain dumped into your new bucket (see Brain dump – part one), let’s start “getting things done.” How do you filter everything in your bucket into actionable bites? Two concepts. Contexts and Next Actions.These are the reason David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” made such a splash. Many people like Allen’s entire system, but it is a bit much for me. There is such a thing as over-planning. But I have experienced the peace of having a clear mind because all of my “open loops” were addressed. That is the big payoff here. The reason I use ZenDone is because it streamlines GTD down to bare bones – the most useful parts.

First, ask yourself “how long is completing this action going to take?” If it is only a few minutes, are there any reasons not to complete it right then? If not, do it. You’ll build a list of actions that need completing, and you should partition them into contexts.

  • @home
  • @work
  • @computer
  • @phone
  • @errands

Stick to as few categories as possible, where most of your “things” get done. That way, when you’re sitting in front of your computer or accessing the app on your mobile device, you can apply the filter so that it only shows the correct @context, and you’ll know exactly the things you need to work on. Work on them as time and energy allow.

The “Next Action” concept applies to actions that you assign “project” status. That is because everything that has more than two or three related steps is a project. ZenDone allows you to create a project and populate it with actions. “Next actions” are the most pressing or important actions within your project. The things that have to be done before you can move to another required action.

everThis meshes very well with using Evernote to create project notes. With “note linking” you can create hyperlinks to other notes within Evernote to keep everything related to a project in one place. This is beautiful. For those of you who don’t think they’re good planners, it might create somewhat of a revolution in your life. Try it for an upcoming event like an anniversary. If you start planning now, the chances of it happening are much higher. Say you want to get away for a four day weekend in the Smoky Mountains. You’d create a note within Evernote and name it “Smoky Mountains Anniversary Trip.” What will you put in there? You can create a list with check boxes. Getting the time off of work. Paying for it. Where you’re going. What you want to do while you’re there. Restaurants just have to try. Are there zip-lines? Do you want to hike in the national park? Visiting Dollywood? Where are the mountain cabins at the best price? Can you book one? Are you driving or flying? What is the cheapest or easiest way to get there and back.

You’ll get everything organized the way you want, and the next actions will percolate to the top of your mind and that’s what you’ll focus on next. You may find that certain things don’t fall into place. The cabin you want is booked on the dates you want to rent it. You won’t have enough money saved this year. So you defer it to the next year but continue to work on it. That actually gives you more time to plan. And once you get hooked on working this way, the time will fly by because you’ll be planning other things, too. You can use this process for most everything.

ZenDone gives you the opportunity to review everything you’ve dumped into your Evernote bucket, and deal with it.

  • Do it
  • Delete it
  • Delete it
  • Delegate it

My friends, the four D’s are the only things you can do with an action, aside from meetings and other things that naturally go on your calendar. I’m sure you know how to use your calendar. Bonus: ZenDone links up with your Google calendar, too.

Evernote master notes and note linking keeps all of your project materials in one place, as discussed above. If these Brain dump articles have been useful to you, leave a comment.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Evernote or ZenDone in any way besides as a customer. I don’t get kickbacks if you make a purchase, and I don’t share any information with them about you. If you want to give me money, buy my books. Thanks!

The Adventure Hiking Trail

Another item on my bucket list has been to hike the Adventure Hiking Trail in Corydon, Indiana. Of course, one of the reasons I want to do this is to prep myself for the fated thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. It served that purpose in spades. And trekking poles. Last weekend, I finished the first twenty-miler (plus) since I was a teenager. I was wiped for a couple of days. This weekend’s outing was sort of a last minute affair, since I wasn’t sure if I wanted to exert myself in back-to-back weekenders.

What am I talking about? Of course I did!

In addition to the benefits I get from hiking – breathing forest air and phytoncides, getting a workout, meeting all sorts of people who are mostly in a good mood, it also serves as penance! Woe to me if I pass up an opportunity for voluntary discomfort.

I will say this about the AHT. Depending on where you begin, it can be subtly deceptive. Many flat sections combined with gently rolling slopes lull you into a nice pedestrian (think level paved sidewalks) pace. Then come the rocks. Or maybe I should have said then come the sections of trail that are nothing but rocks. Big chunks, little chunks. Sharp chunks, round chunks. Uphill and downhill rock-chunk paths. Very good training for the AT.

This has been, thus far, my most favorite trail. Partly because there are shelters distributed along the Ohio River section of it, but also because of the scenery and that it is very clearly marked and easy to follow. Some online reviews from the usual trail websites state that it isn’t well marked. They are.

I’ve posted a YouTube video of scenery from along the trail for those who can’t get out to hike it themselves. It is only recommended that those in great physical shape attempt to thru-hike the AHT. And for good reason. It was a difficult, rewarding hike. Enjoy the vid.

Morgan Monroe Double Down

img_0834The days are getting longer. Not super long, but it is still light out at 6:30 in the evening. So I made a decision. When I got up this morning and finished sharing an indulgent breakfast with my bride (the only day I eat bacon and eggs!), I tossed my backpack in the hatch and sped down the road toward Morgan Monroe State Forest. I’d been debating whether to hike both the Low Gap and Three Lakes Trails in one day. It may have made more sense to put it off until the days were even longer, but frankly? I was itching to catch up with my hiking buddy in Texas, my son Aaron. He did a section img_0844hike of the Lone Star Hiking Trail north of Houston and got in a twenty mile day. I haven’t done that since I was a teenager in Scouting, and certainly not since I turned 50.

I went for it. Now I ache. Not so much because I’m old, which I’m not – not really. I don’t feel “age” day in and day out. But I kept a 3 mph pace most of the way through the hike. Yep, that is the normal human walking pace. But these hills. Both trails I hiked are rated “rugged” and they don’t even recommend that you thru-hike them if you aren’t in shape. Good shape. Bordering on really good shape. I’m in good shape, non-bordering.

img_0840I hiked hard. And I hiked for 8 hours including breaks every 5 miles. I usually do a short break every three miles, but I was racing the sun down, and the sun won.

I night-hiked the last mile, without my headlamp on. I brought it, just did’nt use it because the half moon was out and I could see the blazes. I couldn’t see all the roots and sticks, but I tread carefully and didn’t fall down once. I stumbled a couple of times, but my trekking poles kept me upright. My legs feel awesome right now. No, really. It’s a good img_0845burn. And with the pack on, I burned nearly 7,000 calories.

Hiking the Low Gap and Three Rivers Trails in one day is no longer on my bucket list. I did it, and I didn’t kick the bucket. There is this surreal feeling of peace and wellness that washes over you at the end of a good day of hiking, when you get to camp or to the trailhead and it is time to get on with the next thing. For me, it was getting a shower, eating, and coming back here to tell you about it.

No nightstand nonsense

Dirty little secret time. I’ve been sleeping with my mobile phone. There, I’ve said it. It isn’t something I’m proud of, but my nightly routine lately as been to plug it in to recharge and set it right there on the nightstand, next to my head. Most nights, I’d even play a quick live game of Euchre with complete strangers, there under the badhabitcovers in my pajamas.

You may well know that this is a bad habit. No, you don’t understand…when I mean a bad habit, I’m talking epic bad habit like the nuns have on over there to the right. —>

I put my phone there right next to my head because I thought that if the world caught on fire, or there was a really important email, I’d hear the phone go spastic with its little vibrating dance, plastic and glass against wood, and I’d wake up out of a sound sleep, process this Very Important Information, and somehow save the world.

That hasn’t happened yet, and the statistical probability of it is astoundingly low, now that I’ve given it a bit of rational thought. That is my “human scale and pace” implementation for the day. The phone is now safely charging right here on my desk, securely plugged into the the USB port of my Macbook.

How on earth will I ever wake up for work in the morning without my phone? Easy. I’ve suddenly got a crush for my good ol’ Timex alarm clock with the Relaxing  Nocturnal Sounds (TM) to sooth me to sleep. I’d forgotten how faithful it had been to me as it sat there watching me sleep all of those years before the interloper came into the picture.

What if I wake up bolt upright in the middle of the night with the cure for cancer? I’ll need the note taking function from my amazing piece of mobile technology to record all that awesomeness, right? Nah, I think tomorrow I’ll look for a stubby pencil and a scratch pad.