Discover the Simple Complexity of Nature on a Hike
|Jeff Alt hiked the Appalachian and John Muir Trails.|
What can a trek through the woods offer you that a jaunt on the treadmill can't? "The simple profound outdoors," states Jeff Alt, speaker and author of the award winning books A Walk for Sunshine and A Hike for Mike. "You can't recreate the [simultaneous multitude of offerings] of the outdoors--the real wind against your face, the scent of the air, the aromas of the earth, the rustle of the leaves, the tweets of the birds, the crunch of the ground under your boots.....there are so many things going on. I believe our Creator gave us [the outdoors] as a thinking room to stay healthy both physically and mentally," elaborates Alt.
Jeff Alt is no stranger to the wonders of hiking. He walked the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, dedicating his adventure to his brother, Aaron, who was born with cerebral palsy. He decided to use his journey as a means of raising money for the care-giving home in which his brother resides--the Sunshine Home in Maumee, Ohio. This initial trek served as an impetus for an annual fundraiser, "Walk with Sunshine," which has raised over $160,000 for the Sunshine Home to help it better meet the needs of its residents.
"There are so many health benefits of hiking, including mental health benefits" notes Alt, who has also trekked the 218-mile John Muir Trail across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California with his wife, as a depression awareness campaign dedicated to her brother, whose depression resulted in him taking his own life. Their walk along the John Muir Trail was both a healing trip for his wife and an advocation for depression awareness. "Walking can help with the healing of depression by [improving the balance of] the chemicals in the brain that lead to depression," explains Alt. (Addendum 07/25/11: Alt recommends consulting a physician if you or a loved one is experiencing depression so that you may discuss your treatment options. Exercise is sometimes suggested in conjunction with traditional treatment modalities, such as medicine and counseling.)
In addition to the benefits to your health and an opportunity to connect with nature, hiking is just plain and simply fun, notes Alt. "It is fun for all ages and it removes you from the hustle and bustle, but not from who you are," he explains. Alt has learned many lessons from his hiking journeys. Below he offers his tips to keep your hiking trip safe and fun.
"The hikers worst enemies are dehydration and hypothermia," says Alt. To prevent dehydration not only do you need to bring along enough water to drink during your hike (about two quarts for an adult according to Alt), but you need to research where you are going to find out if safe water will be available to refill your containers. To prevent hypothermia avoid cotton, including cotton undergarments, warns Alt. Wool and synthetic materials that wick moisture away from your body are best.
Another safety issue concerns injuries. Most injuries occur when descending an incline, according to Alt. To prevent this, Alt suggests that you train for your hike, particularly long treks, by either walking up and down the stairs or snaking through the bleachers of a stadium.
- A comfortable set of footwear. Trail shoes are popular because they are light but have a durable sole to accommodate rugged, uneven terrain.
- Waterproof and breathable outerwear, such as a gortex jacket.
- Gadgets, such as a compass or GPS for navigation.
- Field guide and trail maps.
- Food/snacks and water for nourishment.
Making it Fun
- Gadgets, gadgets, gadgets. Involving technology, such as a GPS, on a hike helps to lure kids and tech savvy couch potatoes out of the house and into the woods for better health. A magnifying glass or container and binoculars can help you get a closer look at the natural world. And, digital cameras can help you capture the memories of your journey into nature.
- Play hiking games, such as scavenger hiking in which you look for objects along the trail, geocaching in which you look for hidden treasures using a GPS and a hike-for-the-senses game in which you note the sounds, sights and smells surrounding you.
- Add a social element to your journey by inviting friends, family and coworkers to hike with you.
- When hiking with children, allow them to take the lead and walk at their pace. The goal is to make it fun and enjoyable for them so that it will foster healthy habits that can be maintained into adulthood. Allowing children to take along what Alt refers to as "adventure packs" is another way to engage and motivate your child on the walk. Adventure packs can contain essentials such as sunglasses, rain jackets, flashlights, headlamps, books about animals and plants, magnifying containers and anything that the child would like to bring on the trip (within reason). However, Alt warns that children should not have food in their packs, especially if you will be hiking in bear country. An adult should be responsible for carrying and handing out snacks along the way.
Phone Interview with Jeff Alt on July 19, 2011.