I have an old friend who truly loves the idea of hiking with me. Notice that I used the word "idea" because in all of the years that she has planned to join me in my outdoor pursuits, she has never really been out in the wild with me. She has bought an expensive pair of hiking boots, cute trekking clothes and even a pair of sunnies in preparation for her Instagram HOTD (hiking outfit of the day) post but she always flakes on me on the day of the trek. During one of our coffee dates, I finally managed to squeeze out the truth from her. "Oh, Ann. I'd love to go and take wonderful photos. It's just that, I don't think I can deal with the lack of proper toilet. And I don't know if I can lug a backpack for that long", she said. Well, there you go.
To be fair with her, I think her reasons were valid. Different persons have different strengths and levels of comfort. But how does one overcome that hurdle (whatever it may be) to go out and enjoy the benefits of nature? I have listed a few tips below for those who are now ready to take that first step into the wild but don't know where to begin.
Start with the end in mind. I want you to close your eyes. Imagine yourself on top of a mountain --- your hair gently blown by the breeze, your cheeks warmed by the sun's rays. You take a deep breathe and the sublime sensation of filling your lungs with fresh air is just enough for your face to break into a grin. All is quiet except for the melodic chirping of birds. There are no distractions --- it's just you and Mama Nature. Now open your eyes. Wasn't that a good image? Felt great, too. Don't get me wrong here. It'll not always be pleasant --- you may get a few scrapes here and there, a weird-looking bug may bite you on the trail, and yes, you probably need to do your "business" al fresco, but will you let those detract you, my flower child? Of course not! Remember that nothing worth having comes easy. The discomforts are all but temporary. There will be physical difficulties, sure, which is why we go to.
Prepare your body. This is not negotiable. No matter how much you psych yourself, if your body doesn't cooperate, you are not getting anywhere. I can hear you now saying "I live in the city where parks are non-existent, how am I going to train?" or "There's so much traffic that it takes forever to go to the nearest trail-head!" or "I have no gym membership.". For starters, that excuse of not having enough space to walk around Manila is lame. We may lack parks here but we have lots (too much, actually) of tall buildings! Next time you go shopping, bring a backpack and ditch the escalator/elevator when moving from point A to B. Bought some shirts? Put them inside your pack. Want to buy a new pair of shoes that's on the next floor? Use the stairs to go there. Rinse and repeat. If you are determined to do something, you will find ways and stop making excuses.
Take baby steps. Sooner or later, you need to be physically in the mountains. This is not the time to show-off so check your ego at the trail-head. Be realistic with what your hiking-newbie body can handle. Take note that a 10-km walk on the city is totally different from a 10-km walk on the trail as you need to factor elevation and terrain. If you're from Metro Manila, you can start with day-hikes (one day trekking trips) at one of the mountains in the CALABARZON area. The peaks there offer the right amount of challenge to whet your appetite for the outdoors but the location is not too far from the city so you can bail out if you want to (which I hope you won't do). Don't worry if you're already huffing and puffing after the first hour. We all need to start somewhere.
Choose your hiking buddy/group wisely. Personally, I think this is an important thing that you need to consider when planning your first hike. This is tricky as you want someone who's not only mountain-smart but is also someone who can provide motivation when all you want to do is throw your backpack and sit on the ground. This same person should also be able to handle your trail tantrums without resorting to bribery or violence. All kidding aside, a hiking buddy can easily make or break your trip so be smart when picking a partner. Just please, don't wear matching clothes.
Have fun. "The best climber is the one having the most fun", said Alex Lowe. That's true with hiking, too. So stop overthinking and enjoy your moment outdoors.
Of course, you also need to make sure you are dressed appropriately for the weather, that you have the right gear, you know how to read a map, etc. but those will be taken on a separate post as this entry is dedicated entirely for the trail noob.
Next article: Healthy tips for your road trip snacks