Baby Steps to Hiking My Own Hike. What's so Hard?
I’m sure we all have teachings we fully agree with in theory but have troubles with implementing them in real life, right?
The Hike Your Own Hike saying is pretty standard in the hiking world. We kind of all agree with it, but it seems I have a problem to internalize it and walk the talk.
But what does “hike your own hike” even mean?
The idea behind the say is that each of us is different and should hike the way it feels good to them. It can be about the tempo, the distance or gear we use. It’s about the preferred terrain or style of hiking. Some love to go for months-long backpacking trips, others prefer short weekend trips. There are those who get up with the first rays of the sun to run through the trail and hardly stop for a minute. Others, like to take their time, emerge slowly in the morning and slowly walk across the land, stopping to take photos, read a book, or just sit and stare at the views.
We differ in age, size, health levels, or experience. Our goals and expectations vary, too. The “right” way of hiking is the one that fits your objectives, your health, experience, means, and still keeps you safe. One’s objective will be to do as many miles as possible in a day, another’s - to have a pleasant Sunday hike with their loved ones and be back home for dinner. It might actually be the same person just on a different day.
We also all come from a range of economic backgrounds – some can afford the best and most expensive, some hardly could get a few of the cheapest pieces and borrowed the rest.
It’s also worth stating here, that the “hike your own hike” rule applies only to things that influence just you and your person. The moment something influences others, endangers them or causes any kind of harm to people or environment, the “hike your own hike” thing ceases to apply. One cannot ignore basic safety requirements, Leave No Trace rules or simple etiquette tips stating it’s their “style” of hiking. We always have to research and prepare before we head off into the Outdoors.
Sounds great, so what’s the problem?
The thing is, it’s tough to switch off the judging process. It’s natural for us, as humans to make assumptions – that’s an evolutionary response which was saving our lives, helping us to make quick judgments – flight or flight, friend or foe. We do it all the time – most of the time, without even thinking.
We assess people based on the clothes they wear, their haircuts, nails, books they read, or the music they like. Our minds screen a stranger’s gestures, body build, gait, and voice timbre. Some of it is merely our minds doing a shortcut. It’s hard to make new patterns all the time and asses every unique situation as a completely blank slate. Our experiences and knowledge help us create designs which later on become handy when similar situations appear.
But of course, it can be misleading and simply hurtful, as that’s a straight path to stereotyping and pigeon-holing people.
Struggling to hike my own hike
When we add to it the tendency of some people (like myself) to harshly judge oneself in comparison to others, the infamous impostor syndrome many people (women especially) suffer from, we see why it’s so hard to really, truly, hike our own hike and let others hike their own hike.
I talk and write a lot about self-acceptance not because I’m such a brilliant champion of that but precisely because I struggle with it and need a constant reminder that I should accept my self (my body) just the way it is.
Even when I kind of accept myself, I also feel the need to be apologetic, make a joke of my shortcomings or hide them somehow. At least that’s what happens in my head - I assume others would consider them shortcomings (even if I wouldn’t consider them in others), so I create all weird excuses in my head for whatever my anxious mind finds as a theoretical “problem”. Even before I had a situation of actual confrontation. My mind doesn’t need an anxiety-triggering situation. Just in case there is none, it prepares by creating its own in my head.
One of the ways I deal with it all is to escape the problem: when I hike alone, it’s easier to not compare myself to other hikers. But it’s much harder when I camp at an established campsite to hide the fact that I’m extremely slow in the mornings. When there is no one around, I’m the first and only to leave and move. But with others? I kind of “know” they probably don’t care (and even if, I shouldn’t care they care), but the anxiety’s venomous voice keeps poisoning my mind.
It’s much harder to keep my cool and be ok with it all when there are people around. Same with the fact that I’m no fitness champion and I need a lot of rest and that I huff and puff when I climb a steeper mountain. Or, actually, even a low hill. Or that I’m crazy disorganized and messy and always have a lot of crap around and many times I forget to pack something and need to unpack and repack.
I’m totally fine with all these things when others do it. But I have a hard time accepting them in myself (it’s, again, easier when I’m alone).
And as much as I believe in hike your own hike, I have to do all I can to not judge other hikers. By the gear they use, by the clothes they wear. I feel shame to admit it – but it’s true.
What makes a “hiker”?
It doesn’t matter that I know (intellectually) that buying a cheap technical shirt is one of the best ways to save money, I still have this annoying little thing in the mind that a person in a Rab or Arc’teryx shirt is somehow more “serious” about hiking. As if they were some secret badges of honor and not stuff you can buy when you have more money. (A disclaimer: I have Rab and Arc’teryx stuff, and it’s high-quality clothing, but I haven’t suddenly become a better hiker just because I have them).
I still remember how I had these annoying thoughts (I tried to battle) that I wouldn’t be considered a “serious” hiker (and as such, what right did I have to write a hiking blog?) because I used a cheap pair of trekking poles for the first couple years. They were great (although, probably more massive than the ones from the high end), they served me perfectly, but I feared they don’t show me as the pro-hiker I thought I had to look to be “allowed” to run a hiking blog.
Crazy, isn’t it?
Obviously, the fact that I suffer from severe anxiety doesn’t help either. One of biggest irrational fears that torment me is the accusation of being an impostor, of people judging me not to be worth much, that I don’t deserve praise or can’t do anything of quality. It’s hard to live with that kind of thoughts. I am proud of myself that I’ve been running this blog for 2,5 years, and even though it’s not a huge success, I keep on doing it. Once in a while, I receive a sweet email or message from someone that just brings tears to my eyes. People who support me and encourage to keep on doing what I’m doing. It helps with the anxious talk in my mind.
A while ago I wrote somewhat click-baity post, titled “Are you sure you can call yourself ‘a hiker’?”. The point was to convince everyone who would like to do (or already does) some hiking, that what they do is enough, is OK, no matter how far, fast, slow, ultralight or hut-to-hut they go.
I wrote it for all the folks out there, but in reality I probably need to read it myself the most. I write it but I struggle with believing it myself. I keep trying to encourage other women - because I need the encouragement myself. I hope the more I say it, or write it for others - the more I internalize it. Baby steps, right?
On the path to genuinely hiking my own hike
Am I there yet? Sometimes I feel I am. There are these moments of solitude when I’m completely at peace, happy and proud of my achievements. When I deeply sense how much I love what I do, the way I do it. When I positively know that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. That I’m enough.
These moments last for a while, sometimes seconds, sometimes days… I try to keep on collecting them, so I fully internalize and live, breathe, and sweat this hike my own hike thing - on and off the trail.
Let me know - how are you doing with hiking your own hike?
Do you struggle with the idea?
Do you own your spot on the trail? Are you the queen of your unique style of hiking?
Or do you feel like someone can call you out any time?
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