I’ve been spoiled. For the past 8 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to hike at least 800 miles per year despite full-time work, graduate school, and starting a family. This trail time is an extremely important factor in my life. Even half an hour of walking in open space produces a huge impact on my mood, and I need to maintain a balanced mood to do the work that I do (therapy).
Given that I frequently hear comments about “I wish I could hike more,” I thought it might be instructive to break down how a working adult with a busy lifestyle can manage to find time for hiking. It can be really hard to see a path toward regular hiking through a wilderness of responsibilities. However, there are some things you can do to carve out a bit more time, even if it’s only a few extra miles per week.
I first have to acknowledge that most of the miles I hike are only possible because I have a supportive wife. She is consistently willing and able to take the responsibility of watching our son for short periods, which allows me time to get in short hikes here and there. This support is a fundamental part of my hiking life, and if you’re a working adult with a family, similar support will also be crucial.
I’m aware that this may be a challenge for a lot of people for an array of reasons. Your responsibilities and your significant other’s responsibilities may be such that it seems next to impossible to carve out time. However, the point isn’t to focus on the barriers as much as to get creative with how you can accomplish a bit more trail time. Even one extra hour per week on the trail amounts to 2-3 miles, which over a full year amounts to 104-156 miles. Even small adjustments, bargains, and cooperation between spouses over who watches the kids for an extra hour or who picks up dinner one night can amount to extra time that adds up in the long run.
One of the weird ironies of life is that, when we have all the time in the world, nothing gets done. When we have next to no time, a lot gets done. When time is scarce, we tend to budget our time more effectively out of necessity. A disciplined approach to your time may reveal places where you spend your time inefficiently. With some examination of how you spend your time, you might find that the half hour you spend looking at your phone might become a half hour on a dirt trail. This seemingly insignificant amount of time can become 1-1.5 miles of hiking (or another 52 to 78 miles per year).
Additionally, if you want to hike more – like, you REALLY want to hike more – you might have to sacrifice a few other activities in order to create space. Sometimes, we get into a routine and come to view parts of that routine as obligations. However, you can sit down and map out all of your daily obligations looking for things you can sacrifice in service of hiking. If you do happy hour with co-workers twice per week, and you decide you could do with one happy hour of alcohol and one happy hour of hiking, that’s another 2-3 miles per week. Even if you only find one thing, it still amounts to more time with dirt under your feet.
Embrace the Local Trail
It would be (and is) wonderful when you have the chance to spend regular, frequent time exploring wilderness areas away from the city. However, if you spend 50 hours per week engaged in work and the rest of the time with family or other social obligations, you’re not going to be able to spend 2-3 days per week exploring Anza-Borrego or Cleveland National Forest (unless you live out there).
Instead, you have to fall back on the less glamorous open space parcels scattered across urban San Diego County. I live in southeastern Carlsbad, and through my 20 in Twenty challenge, I have identified over 20 different trails I can hike without driving more than 20 minutes. Some of these trails lie along my commute, and I’ve mapped out multiple commuting routes that bring me to within close proximity of places like Elfin Forest, the Batiquitos Lagoon, the Coast to Crest Trail, Hosp Grove, Double Peak, and Rancho La Costa Preserve.
With a little help from my wife and some creativity working against my fixed schedule, I have the opportunity to get two additional hikes per week on a regular basis, adding up to between 2 to 6 miles every week (or 104 to 324 miles per year). If a client cancels, and I find myself with another hour of spare time, I can hit a trail on the drive home and get a bonus 2-3 miles.
This requires some research in determining where your local trails are and how to work them into your commute. Chances are that no matter where you live in San Diego, you have a local trail within ten minutes. It may not be that exciting, and it may not be as beautiful as a walk through Doane Valley, but it’s still exercise with natural features on a dirt surface. Or, as we call it in the outdoor community: hiking.
In the end, it may not seem that exciting due to the less glamorous routes or the fact that it’s another thing to cram into a busy schedule. However, it’s important to remember how much a local hike through a heavily developed area can give you. Even half an hour of exercise in a natural environment can reduce your stress and refresh your perspective. It gives you a chance to see something memorable, like the patch of owls clover I saw on a patch of open space a few minutes from my house. It helps keep you in shape for the bigger hikes, as well. And finally, it keeps you connected to hiking, allowing your relationship with your favorite activity to continue to flourish.