How Does Hiking Change Your Body?

Why are you here?

Hopefully you read my first post and were so entertained by my wit that you have been waiting breathlessly for my next post, if not take a few minutes to read it Here. If this describes you in any way, then you should seek professional help, I’m not the writer in my family, that talent rests with my wife. If this is all very confusing for you and you are still reading, that means I have figured out the tags and like a moth to a flame you have been lured into my secret trap. Either way, I now must create content that you find entertaining and informative to keep yearning for more, so onward we go.

Twenty plus years on the Hips…

No one wakes up one morning overweight. For me it took years of overeating, not exercising, oh and more eating. It took thirds of poutine, seconds of pie, and full bowls of ice cream. It took some time, like twenty-five years, but I managed to pack on the pounds. If my story isn’t representative of the greater American condition, I’m not sure who is.

Remember, we all have challenges and goals that we want to accomplish. But there is no magic pill, there is no such thing as a genetic switch that will bring you to your goals overnight. Change takes time, sacrifice, and work. You aren’t going to see the differences right away, those first few weeks I was dropping 2-3 pounds a week, it was great to see on the scale, but I didn’t see or feel that difference for months. In short if it took you 20 years to get to the place you are at now, guess what, it is going to take time to reverse that.

The First Walks

Walking the dog, walking the dog…

I started this journey walking the dog, after and before work, in the dark, in January, in Northern New England. For those of you that don’t know, it is cold and dark in New England at that time of year. The sun had either already set or hadn’t risen yet at the times I was out; the average high temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit here in January and there is always plenty of snow on the ground. I did a short flat loop near the town schools because of ice everywhere else, the loop is a bit over a half mile. Most visits I did two laps. For those of you with no calculator that is .6 miles times 4 or 2.4 miles a day, in the dark, in a circle with the dog. You may now feel your envy.

Why did I start this in the winter?

Did I mention that it is cold in the winter? It is. I’ll just say, if you start this journey in the winter and can stick with it till spring, you got this! Preparing for an artic expedition every night and every morning was an added challenge. Taking off gloves to pick up the treats my dog left behind, that was a special treat. I won’t go so far as to say it was miserable, but it really was. The cold seeps into joints and it seems like there is always a biting wind nipping at any exposed skin.

That is not to say it was all bad, I mean it was, but it was all bearable. I didn’t want to get hamstrung by aches and pains, so I started a morning and evening stretching routine. Post in the comments if you want to see those routines, maybe I’ll share them. A lot of stretching, and it felt pretty good. I think doing those stretches is a big part of how I was able to push as hard as I did.

Is it ever going to be light out?

So, winter is rough. I’ve already beat the cold horse to death, but what about the fact that you could never see the darn thing. In the winter the sun rises late and sets early. Most of us take for granted the value of sunlight because we have artificial light everywhere we go. But try to imagine spending hours outside exercising in the dark and cold, every day. I can’t say definitively that it has a physical impact but it certainly impacts your mental state.

Walking the dog, walking the dog

Time to set the scene… I had been doing this for about month, my knees were “tender”, and my back was still more often than it was not. I hadn’t seen much in the way of results yet, but the dog was happy, and it was getting easier to get out there every day. Then came the snow. It wasn’t much, maybe 2-4 inches, and it was that light fluffy late winter snow that sounds so cool. Of course, I was going to walk the dog in fresh snow, the only one that questioned my decision was my wife.

200 yards, that is how far I got before I ended up on my back staring at the snowflakes falling on my face. The previous days had been warm, warm enough to melt most of the snow on the ground. There was one spot that was flat that had gone through this melt freeze cycle forming a level sheet of ice. The challenge with ice in the dark in the snow is that you can’t see it. That beautiful blanket of fresh snow created a mysteriously zero friction surface. There was so little friction that as soon as I stepped on it, my feet shot out from under me, I hung in the air a moment (long enough to reconsider my life choices) until gravity reengaged and I crashed down to earth landing squarely on my back and head.

I laid there for a while, I don’t know how long, but time passed. There was only one thought passing through my mind as my head throbbed and did a basic assessment to be sure I wasn’t dead or dying. “She was right, and she is going to tell me so, damnit” I wasn’t dead, I did have to crawl off the patch of ice and I didn’t get 2 laps in that night, but it didn’t kill me. Considering how hard a went down, I was lucky. These are the moments that can determine success. Do I keep going or do I take the obvious message nature is sending me go home and get some ice cream? There is always a choice, and you are the only one that makes it.

Eating Habits 2.0

And, I still eat poutine

The most common question I get asked is “Did you change your diet?”. The answer is simple, yes … and no. Let’s tackle that in the reverse order. No, I still eat the same foods I have always eaten. I love pizza, burgers, and poutine. I don’t think I could have succeeded if I had to give up the foods I love. I cut my portions. I started counting calories I used My Fitness Pal, so I still ate what I wanted just not as much of it. No joke, this takes discipline and commitment. I gave up desserts for 6 months and no alcohol. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice, then you won’t succeed. I know it looks like I just decided to make a change and BOOM I was healthy and trim. It did go fast but I worked for it, you can too.

Still Moving

First twenty miles

Despite my crashes I was getting stronger, and the weight was coming off. My endurance was increasing and by April I had done a couple 12-mile hikes. I had a step counter and was averaging over 9000 steps a day. Physically, almost everything hurt. My legs were always sore, my knees were noisy, and anytime I went further than 5 miles my back was a nightmare. Naturally, it was time to step it up. About 5 years ago I had tried to hike from Hinsdale to Keene via the Ashuelot Rail Trial. It had ended poorly, I had blisters on both feet, my thighs had chaffed so badly that I was bleeding, and my hips and knees could barely move. Fast forward a bit and I decided to give it a second try. My wife was getting a massage in Keene, so I had a ride back. I set out at 5 am and at 11:06 I crossed the overpass in Keene, mission complete. I felt surprisingly good after that trek and that set the stage for many more long distance jaunts since.

Run Finn Run!

Since when do I run?

My nickname is Finn, thanks to a very persistent cowlick that stuck up like a fin. Anyway, one of the spaces that I used to keep moving was the warehouse at work. During one of my circuits, I decided that I wanted to see if I could pass the US Navy Physical Readiness test. Mostly, I wondered if I could run 1.5 in 15 minutes, I seemed to remember that was roughly the requirement for my age group. So, I started jogging. I didn’t know the distance in the warehouse, so I ran for 8 minutes. Then I ran for 10 minutes. A couple weeks later, it was 12, then 15. Oh, my lungs… Those were tough laps, and my knees did not take to it at first. But baby steps and in a month I was at a 12 minute 1.5 mile.

And now I’m running up and down mountains?

At some point during this rediscovery of running I started running up and down Mt Wantastiquet. I have no idea how this came to be, but there I was every Sunday evening, up and down. I’d love to say there was a bunch of pain, but truth is I was feeling pretty good at this point. I’m not a runner, I had never been a runner. Somehow in this journey I found out I was indeed a runner (I ran my first marathon, October 2022).

Finished the Marathon!

Feeling the changes

If you’ve read my first post then you know that I lost 60 pounds in about 6 months. I still get heartburn occasionally, but I was taking Prilosec everyday before I started, I take one every month or so now. I used to snore, enough so that my wife booted me into the guest room. No more, I think one time since I started losing weight she said something.

It’s 4 o’clock and I’m not tired

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but it used to be that by the time I got home from work I was ready for bed. I was always out of energy by the end of the day. Now, I get up at 4:30 am go running or hiking before I start my day. I have the same job, I get home, more walking, then do work on the computer till bed time. The point is I’m not run down like I used to be. I do go right to sleep and sleep soundly through the night, no issues with that. But I’m going all day and I feel great. If there is no other reason to start this journey, the energy levels alone are worth it.

It is a Difference…

I’m not a vain person, but I look pretty good now. Funny, how shedding 60 pounds can change the way you look at yourself. And my legs are cut! That is enough vanity, if you decide to lose weight because of how others see you; might I suggest a change in your self-worth. You won’t succeed in the long term if you are doing something for someone else, make sure YOU are the one that wants change. If you are looking for a way to sculpt your body, I do recommend walking, running, and hiking. The health benefits are numerous, and walking is low impact, so it is the best thing for your heart. If you commit to it, you will look great and you will feel better.

There is no magic bullet, there is no one size fits all process to change. I love the outdoors and I had forgotten that I NEED that connection to be fulfilled. Physically, being active will improve every aspect of your body. My resting heart rate, my lung capacity, my endurance, my strength, my flexibility… everyone of them has improved noticeably since I committed to getting out there and doing the work. No one is going to do the work for you, and it isn’t going to be easy. There is bound to be some blood and tears, and there WILL be a lot of sweat. But it is worth it.

Here are some measurements of change:

  • Weight:
    • Before 220 lbs
    • After: 160 lbs
  • Waist:
    • Before 36 inches
    • After 30 inches (I still can’t wear slim fit jeans because my calves and thighs are too big, but in theory…)
  • Shirt:
    • Before Extra Large
    • After Medium
  • Neck:
    • Before 17 inches
    • After 15 ½ inches

Mike lives in Southwestern New Hampshire with his wife, teenage child, dog, and cat. He leads guided hikes for all ages and skills levels around the region and volunteers his time with trail maintenance, planning, and promotion with various local trail organizations. Mike has put his outdoor knowledge and experience in courses which he offers both online and in person. You can follow his adventures via You Tube, Social Media, and this Blog

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