When I first got hooked on cycling, that is all I did. Winter came, the bike got put away. Come spring, the bathroom scale indicated my approach was flawed. I learned to ride in the winter.
Similarly to how a friend coaxed me into cycling, other friends talked me into Nordic skiing. It took a while, but I learned to like it. This took tremendous pressure off trying to maintain fitness and health over the winter months using only the bike. The best part about skate skiing? It was just like mountain biking in terms of aerobic intensity, exhilaration bombing down trails, and mental therapy. Snow had become something to look forward to, not dreaded.
But what about that season in between, you know, where cycling starts to suck and skiing isn't quite ready yet? Well, yet others lured me into hiking this summer. Yeah, anybody can hike, so how could it match the intensity and thrill of cycling or skiing, I wondered? I learned it can in many ways.
When Soups invited me on a Presidential traverse this summer, I thought that is the quintessential New England hike, and I have to do it before moving someday in the maybe not too distant future. I prepped for several weekends leading up to the Presi traverse in hopes it wouldn't kill me. It didn't. Was that a one and done effort, back to regularly scheduled programming? I couldn't let this new, budding ability simply go to waste.
Mt Hancock on a gloomy October 25, but still oh so green.
Late last winter I bought winter hiking boots and snowshoes but never got a chance to use them. I intend to this winter. Why not maintain, even build on the hiking base I started this summer? I was noticing other little benefits from it that might serve me well in ways not immediately obvious.
For one, I have become considerably more agile on my feet. I have a terrible tendency to roll ankles. In fact, when I first started hiking this summer, I wore ankle braces for descending. Now I don't even bring them with me. Don't even think about it really. How can this be?
There's two parts to this I think. One is simply strength conditioning. Stronger tendons and stability muscles can do a better job stabilizing and ankle. The other is neurological. It now seems, after many weeks of long, technical hikes, my ankles just know what to do when planting on uneven ground. Control seems to be automatic and immediate. I can't help but think this will pay dividends on skis, as balance is such a critical aspect to skate skiing.
Mt Osceola, August 23
Another hiking benefit is upper body workout. I hike with poles and use them like I mean it. The poles aren't there just for balance. I use them to double-pole myself up big step-ups, catapult myself over big gaps, and let myself down big drops. Lots of uphill bounding work. Triceps are sore after some hikes.
I've also noticed improved hip mobility recently, which could only be from hiking. All of that awkward lateral movement hiking rugged White Mountain trails is stretching parts of me out that have never been limber, even as a child.
Mt Kinsman North, on a frigid November 8.
Hiking shares a common trait with mountain biking: you get to chose your "line." Most of the time when riding a narrow singletrack trail, your line is chosen for you. But sometimes rough terrain offers many lines to pick from. Challenged riders will attempt the easiest path, while more skilled riders will hunt for the trickiest line. Most hiking trails in New England are brutally rocky, and there may be more foot plant combinations to hike a given section than there are stars in the sky. You can dance bounding leaps across the tips of boulders or take a safer, lower profile approach. As I gain confidence, I tend to take more daring lines on foot.
It is this aspect of hiking, the required focus and attention needed while interacting with the terrain, that puts you in a flow state of mind. I used to think only cycling could do this, but then learned skate skiing can work even better with it's rhythmic motions. Now, as I'm gaining stability on my feet and worry less about injury, hiking can also be a good flow state inducer.
Presi-traverse, August 8. Photo by Soups.
I don't intend to give hiking up anytime soon. I suspect long hikes have limited training value compared to structured intervals on the road or skis, but the other nuanced benefits outweigh any perceived shortcomings. I hope to pursue all of these activities for many years to come. Could this balanced, diverse approach be the closest thing to the fountain of youth?