I never really thought of myself as an outdoor person. I have always struggled with my weight and have been more successful with my intellect than my physicality, so I focused on being “the smart one.” But about four years ago I was looking for something new – a new hobby; a new passion. And I figured hiking might be an achievable goal. With more excitement than common sense I picked a 100 km trail event as my first goal. I trained for three months; but coming from a low base (5 km walks) it was always going to be tough. I only ever made it to 30 km in training. The day itself was unseasonably hot (38 degrees in March) and it was a huge mental effort, with quite a few tears. I made it to the finish with 8 minutes to spare until course closure (cutoff) - 28 hours and 52 minutes. I said never again.
The experience had changed my relationship with the outdoors. While training I found a sense of peace that wasn’t elsewhere. Once I left the houses and climbed the ridge above my suburb, there was nothing but trail, trees, birds and kangaroos. There was time to empty my overactive mind of the incessant details and plans and deadlines. Time to breathe. And often time to come up with creative ideas, once I had stopped (over)thinking about the issues.
At other times I walked with friends. I think as a woman in my forties I had fallen into the trap of focusing on everyone else and had lost me. Hiking had become a time carved out for me. Away from work and family responsibilities. A time to chat, to catch up with people in a way I had not done for many many years.
My lifelong passion has been to travel and I decided to combine my new passion with the old. I started researching Australian and overseas multi-day trail events. These take place in many countries, in beautiful wilderness areas and have a fairly typical format of roughly 30-45 kms per day, for 4-7 days.
There was time to empty my overactive mind of the incessant details and plans and deadlines. Time to breathe. And often time to come up with creative ideas, once I had stopped (over)thinking about the issues.
The first I chose was an Australian event called the Big Red Run, across the Simpson Desert starting and finishing in Birdsville. I completed the “shorter” event, 170 kms in total, of red dune, gibber plain and salt flat. It was remote, stunning and unforgettable. I travelled to Oman for the Oman Desert Marathon. Huge yellow dunes and searing heat, which unfortunately struck me down with heat exhaustion after 3 long days in 50 degrees. And yet the experience for me was magical; the fine patterns in the sand, the small reptiles scurrying from hole to hole, the camels and above all the friendly people.
For a change from heat I chose the Mongol 100: 100 miles (160 kms) across a frozen lake in northern Mongolia. The scenery was spectacular: dark ice, then glass-like ice, boreal forest, snow-capped mountains and clear blue sky as far as you could see. I have further trips planned: the stunning Namib desert, the Kenyan plains and the Kamchatka peninsular await. Each unique, wild and remote. And each requiring my daily effort to get outdoors and be ready for these amazing experiences.
I read on people’s Instagram that nature is their therapy. And I think that they are both right and wrong. Nature does not replace medication and counselling for diagnosed mental illness. That really is going too far and oversimplifying the struggle that many of us go through. But getting outdoors is now an essential part of my self care. It brings quiet, fitness, and better health both physically and mentally. I would not give it up for anything.