Many of us hit the trails because they offer reprieve from the noise and stress and busyness of daily life. In nature, we find quiet, often solitude, and the ability to hear nothing but our own breath and footsteps. The calming effect cannot be denied. Research has shown that being in nature can lower blood pressure, stress hormones, heart rate and muscle tension. In other words, nature for the win!
Sometimes, though, we don’t find quiet and solitude on the trails. As an example, this weekend we tried to take my mom into Kananaskis to get her nature on. What we encountered en route was a highway jammed with traffic care of long weekends, and three accidents in a 50 kilometre stretch. A plan B was in order but, unfortunately, that plan B involved swarms of other nature seekers.
Instead of tranquility and solitude and the peaceful hush of nature, we found:
-a crowded parking with illegal parkers blocking valuable driving territory and hikers wandering aimlessly mid-road
-the constant drone of loud conversations
-trail “traffic jams” (i.e. getting stuck behind large groups and a steady stream of slow walkers)
-a canyon floor full of hikers milling about like cattle on the range, rendering humanless picture-taking a near impossible task
Sounds awful doesn’t it? It’s certainly not my ideal. The reality is that more of us are trying to escape to nature and you don’t always have the time nor energy (nor fitness level, in my case!) to seek out the more remote and lesser known trails. Never fear, though, for you can still enjoy the well-travelled trails even when they’re crowded. Here’s how:
1. Shift your mindset: When we arrived and I saw herd upon herd of hikers swarming the parking lot, my first thought was ‘get me out of here.’ But then I realized that we were out for a family day of fun, a little bit of fresh (albeit slightly smokey) air, and to celebrate my mom’s birthday. All she wanted was to be outdoors with her family. This trail met all those criteria. I had to get over my attitude.
2. Enjoy the company: If everyone else around you is going to be talking and yelling and laughing and hollering, join in the fun. Talk and laugh and drown out everyone’s noise with your own.
3. Whenever possible, choose the lesser-travelled path: Along the route there were numerous places where the path split and rejoined later. We always choose the lesser travelled trail and, in those moments, you could almost forget that there were upwards of a hundred other hikers within a kilometre of you.
4. Look up (waaaaaaay up…okay, that reference will be lost on anyone who isn’t a Canadian child of the 80s who watched the CBC classic the Friendly Giant): It was next to impossible to take a picture without people in it, unless I looked up. But there was so much to see that I would have missed otherwise: canyon walls (even some hieroglyphics!), blue skies, spired peaks, and even the odd hoodoo. Looking at things from a new perspective really can make all the difference.
And so, even if you’re forced to hike with the masses, you can still connect with the joy of nature. Get out there!