White Mountains Presidential Range

How Does Hiking Change Your Soul?

Me, Myself, and Nature

For those of you that want to stand in front of the mirror naked, admiring your body, hiking, walking, and running—these can get you there. I lost a lot of weight and got nice new ripped legs. Read about my physical transformation here: How Does Hiking Change Your Body? Some of us are goal or destination hikers, only hitting the trail to attain the prize. Go for it, do the 4000-footers, and become an end-to-ender. These challenges are incredible and worth doing. But there is something bigger than the physical to aspire to. There is an interconnectedness with nature, each other, and ourselves that is too easily lost in our modern rush to conquer and achieve.

Morning with the Barred Owl

A different Barred Owl

 It was early, maybe 5:45 am, and I had been pushing myself to get out and be active. As I started up the trail, a barred owl hooted in the semi-darkness from a nearby tree. In that simple moment, I remembered who I was and why I was out there. Sometimes it takes a jarring moment; other times, it just takes a gentle reminder. We are all animals, and despite our efforts to distinguish ourselves from the natural world, we are as much a part of it as it is of us. We can only become complete if we foster that relationship. Well, that is how I feel, and if you are reading this, you are at least curious about your relationship with nature.

I know this is true because of the number of people that have shared their personal stories with me. Stories of how being in nature were able to calm their minds when TV and social media couldn’t. Stories of building depression when their jobs keep holding them hostage, trapped indoors, held away from the restorative benefits of the great outdoors.

Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh My!

Well, at least bears

Can you find the bear in this picture?

We don’t have lions or tigers in New England. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. As I’ve stepped up my outdoor time, I have encountered more bears on the trail than I know what to do with. There is something about getting out and being a part of nature and not just moving through it. My relationship with nature has heightened my awareness of my surroundings, myself, and my place in the larger picture.


Ever sit on a rock and just breathe?

Sometimes we need a place to be. Not a goal, not a place to find ourselves, not a place to get away from the hectic world. Just a place to be. When you are on the trail with your earbuds in the car, and you don’t look at your phone, you can be you. There is no judgment out there, and there is no expectation of you. The ability to turn off your ever-running brain, feel the cool rock underneath you, and just breathe is a powerful medicine. When you become part of the world around you, it can put those modern worries into perspective.

Hiking in the Rain

Sometimes, it just feels good to be alone

If you want to get out on the trail alone, go when it is raining. Most people don’t hike in the rain, so you are likely to have the trails to yourself. Also, the falling rain in the trees drowns out all the distractions around you. I think one of the best parts about hiking in the rain is that it takes the destination out of the equation—usually. When you are walking out there, wet and alone, it heightens your senses. Hiking in the rain is a great time to process your worries, to gain perspective. Nothing will ground you better than that moment you are three miles from your car, completely soaked, sitting in a puddle you just slipped in, and no one is around to see the situation as a problem. You are just another creature existing in nature. That is both humbling and freeing, and it feels great if a little soggy.

For Miles and Miles

The views are worth it

Fall on the Connecticut River

I read about these achievers: Fastest Known Time, record holders. I recently read an article about a guy who did the New Hampshire 48 in a shade over three days. WOW! I suppose most of us should be impressed by this incredible accomplishment. I saw the achievement a different way; at that speed, they didn’t get to enjoy any of those 48 summits. You should absolutely hike a destination, end up at a vista, a waterfall, or a summit—but enjoy it. When you step out onto the trail and make your way to your destination, that is a moment between you and nature. It doesn’t depend on anything else going on in your life. When you round that bend in the trail and finally see your goal—that is inspiring. That is the moment you realize why you are out there and try to process the immense beauty you are lucky enough to see.

When I lead hikes, I try to create trips that have a payoff—a view, a feature, or maybe just an experience—like night hiking. I absolutely love when beginner hikers tag along on these trips. It is a magical moment for me when I see their eyes light up or their bodies visibly relax when they see the full moon peak out from behind a distant summit. Every time I relive that first moment through their expressions, I get to feel a little piece of that first-timers awe.

Sunrises, Sunsets, and Moonrises

Finding nature everywhere you look

Christmas Sunrise

4:30 am, that is when I got to the trailhead at Monadnock and made my way up in the full dark of early morning. In the dark, your senses are firing; sounds are bigger, and you notice the smells around you like never before. It is both exhilarating and humbling.

One of the most magical things about sunrise is how quiet it is. When you are sitting on a cold rock, and the sky is painted in colors you can only imagine. Then finally, a sliver of orange peeks over the horizon; you would expect some sound. At the very least an inspiring soundtrack, but it is just a visual bombardment, and there is no sound.

I had only spent a limited amount of time hiking in the dark before I started doing full moon hikes. When your visual world is reduced to a 20-foot circle of light on the ground in front of you, you are free to set aside everything else in life. Night hiking is a great way to focus on the moment; it is very Zen. When you are in that moment, when your focus is on your next step, that is when all your superficial worries are put into perspective.


I haven’t always been the best example of the life I want for all of you, and I have had to overcome my life choices. Read about my journey: A Year of Rediscovery. Hiking is our opportunity to find balance in ourselves. It is our chance to set aside our worries and remember what it is to be human. Hopefully, my journey makes me a worthy guide or at least an example of where this journey can lead.

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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