Has anyone ever asked you, “If you had to choose between the mountains and the ocean, what would you choose?” Although I was born by the beach in Santa Monica, California, I would choose mountains – hands down.
Now, of course, the ideal scenario is to have both incredible beaches and epic mountains. But that’s not the question, is it.
Where My Love Of Mountains Began
Growing up, my family and I lived within a short drive of the Santa Monica beach. We’d spend almost every weekend on that beach, posted up next to the same lifeguard station that my dad went to when he was a kid. We’d all go boogie boarding and bodysurfing, and I’d run around in the water and play in the sand until I was exhausted.
I love the beach. It brings back countless happy memories of playing in the waves with my whole family.
During the summers though, I’d spend anywhere from 1-3 months on a tiny island off the central coast of Norway called Vega. Vega was my summer wonderland, my playground. Here, I was allowed to roam around without parental supervision. I could go down to the ocean and fish for crabs, or run across the street to my friend’s house where we’d play in her barn.
My family and I would row our boat into the middle of the ocean to fish for cod and pollock, and head home in time to cook our catch for dinner. And we’d hike into the mountains to pick wild blueberries and cloudberries. My brother and I would roam around the hills like pirates looking for hidden treasure – which in this case was a large patch of ripe berries.
Norway is where my adoration for the mountains began, and that adoration has led me up many trails in many places.
What Mountains Have Taught & Given Me
I love the ocean, but in the mountains I feel an incredible sense of freedom and adventure. There’s nothing quite like sitting on top of a summit and looking out over the horizon, where the world looks both vast and small.
Hiking mountains has taught me many things about myself, and given me invaluable gifts. Here are five of those things:
I can only travel so fast by foot. Sometimes I hike, and sometimes I run, but either way it’s a process. Whether I’m hiking a loop, an out-and-back, or a point-to-point, there’s a certain degree of patience required.
And with that patience comes appreciation. Time on the trail gives me a chance to appreciate my surroundings, my company (or lack thereof), and the precious moments of silence that come with being immersed in nature.
In our everyday lives, we’re inundated with distractions and obligations. Technology provides a constant stimulus, and can take our focus away from what’s going on in the real world around us.
When I’m out hiking in nature, my phone pretty much stays in my backpack unless I want to take a picture. I don’t text, check my email or social media, or call people when I’m out on the trail. Instead, I focus on taking in the beauty of the trail I’m on.
Also, hiking demands more presence because the trail is often uneven. I have to pay attention to where I’m stepping, and look out for rocks and roots. I look out for other people coming up or down the trail. There is so much going on that it demands my full attention.
Hiking and trail running can be tough. When the incline is steep or when the trail is long, my legs might get tired and my lungs might be challenged, but I keep on going.
Every trail is a new experience, a new challenge. Even if I hike the same trail more than once, there’s always something new about it.
For me, the goal of hiking is manifold – to spend time outside in nature, to see new places, and to complete the trail. Hiking has taught me to take breaks when necessary, to appreciate where I am, and to continue onward until I’ve done the whole hike.
I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment when I’ve done a hike of any distance, difficulty and duration. And that feeling of accomplishment further increases my persistence.
If you’ve ever hiked a tough trail, you’re familiar with the physical and mental strength that it builds. The mountains are humbling because they challenge you, but they also help you discover just how strong you are.
Hiking uphill demands muscular strength. It builds your hamstrings and glutes, giving you power. Going downhill activates your quads and stabilizers, giving you stability. And throughout the journey, your core is engaged, keeping you balanced.
Trudging up a mountain makes your muscles burn, it challenges your lungs as you breathe heavier to take in more oxygen, and it challenges your heart, strengthening your cardiovascular system.
But it also increases your grit, your mental fortitude. Being challenged can be uncomfortable. But the more you experience discomfort, the better you become at dealing with it.
The mountains give me an opportunity to become both stronger in body and in mind.
Of all of the gifts the mountains have given and taught me, this one is perhaps the most valuable.
This world gives us many reasons to think that we’re less than. But the world doesn’t get to choose that. You do. And when you’re in the mountains, you learn your self-worth. You earn it every time you complete a trail, or hike a summit.
And from that view on top of the world, you realize that we’re all just here trying to make an impact in this world. It’s up to you what that impact is. You get to decide who you want to be, how you want to be perceived.
In the mountains, I’ve found more confidence. I’ve developed a deep sense of self-love. Part of that comes through the accomplishment on the trail, but I think another part of that comes from realizing my inseparable connection with the earth and with all life.
Standing at the base of a mountain, I feel how small I am. But once I reach the top, I realize how big I can be. I realize how strong I am when I’ve reached the end of the trail, and how much my body is capable of. Because when I finish one trail of a certain challenge, I know I can handle more the next time around. I can hike higher and further.
So why do I choose mountains? Because the mountains are amazing teachers, and provide incredibly stunning views along the journey. And all of the lessons I’ve learned in the mountains have translated into my everyday life.