Why I Do What I Do: On Hiking Solo & Taking Selfies
I can’t help the smile. It doesn’t matter that I’m puffing, I am sweating, and there is some aching in my knees. The smile is there. It’s probably not even visible all that much to passing me hikers (although I always try to smile nicely to all hikers I meet on trails) but I feel it. I sense the smile.
And it’s a different kind of a smile than the one I give a colleague at work in the morning or after hearing a cute joke. This one is different, it radiates from a different place, somewhere deep inside. It’s a bit like when we fall in love, the smile we can’t stop after remembering the cute moment a day before.
I think I should come up with a unique name for that kind of smile as I’ve already learned to differentiate it from any other kind. A hiking smile? Maybe a solitude smile? Forest smile? Lower-anxiety-levels smile?
All of them sound silly, but they do give an explanation of what brings it out. I don’t feel it at home – even when I’m alone. It’s only when I hike, out there alone with nothing but nature surrounding me. And it takes a while for it to appear – never right away, rarely on the first couple of days. At first, the thoughts are still clouded, chaotic and anxious. But with every step, every tired breath and every tree and stone captured by my eyes, the anxiety subdues.
When my mind finally realizes that – indeed – I seem to be alone, it relaxes. I start to notice shades of greenery, funny shapes of stones and strange berries. Sunshine seeping through leaves and rotten branches. Cold breeze on my sweaty brow, muddy trail, frog escaping my path. A bird chirping somewhere, a buzz of an insect, an opening between the trees showing a fantastic view.
I take photos, slow down and just stare at the views – as long as I want. I put the backpack down and take a few selfies to document that I was, indeed, happy and privileged to put my feet on this spot. I want photos to remind me of this moment when I was truly happy. Because that’s what this smile is about – pure happiness. I guess others could call it differently but decoding my emotions has never been natural to me, so let’s call it simply: smile, happiness.
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Later that day I pitch my tent, take everything from my backpack and prepare my sleeping quarters. I am not organized, and my tent always looks messy. But it’s all good because there is no one I have to worry about – no one can see me. I am just by myself and can do whatever I want. It took me a while, but I started to realize why I love camping by myself so much. I do live alone after all – so it shouldn’t be all that different. But it is. After a long day of hiking, pitching my tent, preparing meal … I feel accomplished. I feel good about myself, and I feel like a damn hero.
It doesn’t matter if the trail was objectively difficult – I feel good about doing it. The sheer contrast to how I feel on a daily basis with how I feel hiking helps me understand what I need to work on. My self-confidence is lacking, and I am at a place in my teaching career where I just don’t take much satisfaction from it. I go through the motions, and I am doing my job, but my heart is not really in it anymore. But such a simple thing as completing a challenging trail makes me feel like a Wonder Woman, a hero, someone on a mission. And I like this feeling. I love sharing it even though it’s hard to express it.
And that’s one of the reasons why I like taking selfies when I hike. I want to look at them later on and see how happy, accomplished, in-the-moment I felt at that spot in time. It’s a kind of confirmation – “yes, I really did that.” I climbed that mountain, I saw that view, I slept in that place.
I also take them to show appreciation of my body. So many women don’t take photos (or don’t let others do it) because they don’t believe they deserve to be in them. They think they are too fat, their hair is all messy, or maybe there is a zit on their chin. Taking selfies helps me in the process of accepting my body the way it is. To show it online as if I were the popular Insta-sensation in a red flowy dress on top of a mountain.
It’s a bit of a “fake it till you make it” approach, but it seems to be working. It’s been years, but I work daily on my self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-love. In our world and culture, it’s a revolution to think of oneself, as a woman, ‘I’m enough,’ ‘I’m strong,’ ‘I did something great,’ ‘I’m proud of myself.’
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Each of these moments are tiny steps towards better self-esteem, stronger self-love, and acceptance. I don’t do it by comparing myself to others – wouldn’t work probably. But through realizing the pure happiness of these tiny moments. The realization how much I love it, how much I love the person I am when I hike, climb, struggle, keep on going. I learn, I discover, I meditate with each step.
I try to keep that with me when I get back home, but it’s not really possible. It’s too ephemeral. But I have the photos to remind me of it, to bring back a ghost of that deep feeling. I hang on it until the next trip, the next moment I will fill my body and soul with the surrounding nature and when I will feel genuinely wonderful for being me.