Hiking with Anxiety: the Kampinos National Park Edition

I really love fall. The changing colors, crispy cold mornings, the earthy smell of moist soil and mushrooms. But in the battle between nice views and anxiety, the last one usually wins.

You see, I hate leaving my apartment. I know, I’m a travel blogger, you would think I can’t wait to just run out screaming “I’m going for an adventure” in my best Bilbo voice.

But I don’t.

Even though I feel really good when I’m out in Nature, alone, calmer, it’s hard to go. If only I could teleport directly to the slopes of mountains or lake’s shore out in the wild…

The process of getting ready, planning and leaving my home is filled painfully with anxiety. And even when I'm finally at my destination, it never is free of it... hiking for me is always hiking with anxiety.

I guess I should have made it a name for my blog. Or maybe hiking while anxious? :)

Hiking with Anxiety - Kampinos edition

I have found out that going on longer trips is easier. I have to buy the plane tickets early on, so it’s done and decided – I have no choice but go.

Also, the anxiety of getting there, when divided by the number of days is less than when going for a day trip.

And that’s why I generally stay home for weekends – to be alone and recuperate after a whole week of noisy work with kids. It just feels like too much effort battling demons for just a few hours of forest time.

But this year I work fewer days at school and promised myself to try and go out more. There are no mountains in the vicinity of Warsaw (at least not close enough to go for a day hike) but there are some lovely natural areas that don’t take all that long to get there.

One of them is the Kampinos National Park. A really unusual collection of diverse landscapes. It takes only about an hour for me to get to a trailhead.

This is the best and the worst side of this park – on the one hand, I can easily go for a Sunday hike, on the other – so can dozens of other people. There is a very small chance for solitude when hiking there unless you pick a really unpopular path or the weather is nasty.

Hiking with Anxiety - my home is my asylum

People are the main source of anxiety so their presence disturbs the healing power of Nature. Nevertheless, I managed to go to Kampinos last Sunday.

I had planned on leaving early – around 9 am, but it just was not going to happen. I am so slow in the morning and combined with the anxiety of “going for an adventure”

I ended up at the trailhead almost half past noon. I started in the little town of Leszno, where a few trails have their start (or pass through). Right away you enter the wonderfully smelling pine woods mixed with leafy trees and variety of undergrowth.

The weather was absolutely beautiful – sunny and warm (for a fall time). As expected, there were families, cyclists and dog walkers around. But a few miles in there were fewer and fewer of them.

I need to have my camera ready

I started walking with trekking poles, as I like using them even on easy and flat paths for the rhythm they give to my step.

But after a while, I strapped them to my backpack as it was just too often that I had to stop, take the camera out of its bag, take a photo, return it, grab the poles… and so on. It was easier to pack the poles and have the camera in my hand all the time.

And I had plenty of opportunities to take photos. I loved photographing the plethora of mushrooms that seemed to fill every possible spot around me.

I could understand why there were so many people walking with baskets – hoping to find some eatable specimens to take home.

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Although the Kampinos park is home to thousands of animal species, it’s hard to spot any during leisure walks – there are too many people around and the animals keep to the most secluded areas of the park.

Hiking with Anxiety - it comes in waves

It was almost funny to notice the waves of anxiety as I walked on. When there were long periods of no humans met, I started to relax, calm… but the moment I spotted or heard anyone – the anxiety was physically felt right away.

I tried to push it down and away and focus on enjoying the beautiful Nature around, no matter what anyone could think of me (my typical anxious thought).

Although I said there are no mountains around Warsaw, it does not me that the Kampinos forests are completely flat.

There are gentle hills made of sand dunes covered with pine trees. The moment you leave them for the lower ground, the flora around you changes dramatically.

Paths there are made of muddy soil instead of sand and there are many boggy spots and swamps. Reeds, high grasses, and rich bushes make those areas lush and rich with growth.

The trail takes you over small bridges and platforms to elevate the walker above swamps.

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I'm not as fit as I wish to think ...

The hike surprised me – it took me longer than I thought and I started to feel its length. It was arrogant of me to think I can just jump on 20+ km long trail after two months of not doing anything.

I left the trail as the sun was setting, providing beautiful light but also making me a bit nervous. Thinking of this trip as just a Sunday walk, I missed my own advice and didn’t take any headlamp with me.

Some people I met towards the end of the trail warned me that the path was flooded at the very end and they suggested taking a detour around it. In the end, it wasn’t so bad – they didn’t show it properly on the map so I bumped into it earlier than I expected. The “flooding” was just a big, muddy puddle.

I was glad I had my trekking poles with me – I could easily navigate the banks of the water and prevent any slipping into it.

Hiking with Anxiety - who will win?

I was surprised how much my legs ached after the hike. I walked for 23 km, which is definitely on the long side for me, but I thought that without a heavy backpack it would be no problem.

It just showed me I have to keep doing it and can’t just go twice a year on big hiking trips. Keeping in shape in between is hard for someone like me, but I will try to do that kind of short hikes more often – at least every two weeks, no matter the weather.

Keep your fingers crossed that my anxiety won’t shackle me down to my apartment …


 Do you struggle with anxiety?

How does it show in your daily life? What about hiking with anxiety?

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