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Hiking Motivation:
Keep Coming Back
For More Trail Time

I feel kind of silly talking about hiking motivation whenever someone asks me why I hit the trail every week.

For me, hiking is an inbuilt need, a drive, an absolute "must have" in large doses.

And it's been that way pretty much since my teens.

  • Trust me on how long ago that was!

So when people ask me how I stay motivated, I feel like a fraud giving them advice.

I've never explored the landscape of finding motivation as a hiker (get the little hiking joke there?).

Hiking trail signs pointing to lakes and ridges, cautioning that sturdy footwear is recommended

That's not helpful!

But rather than share that unhelpful factoid, I try to dig deep into my memory banks for areas where I'm NOT motivated: taking a calculus or physics course, for instance.

Or scrubbing the kitchen floor.

I've done those things, because I knew they were important.

Did I enjoy them?

No!

Which gets me to my next point:

If you have to motivate yourself to hike, maybe you should explore other sports.

If hiking is a (pick one):

  • chore,
  • burden,
  • inconvenience,
  • physical endurance event,
  • something you do because your significant other wants to

... then maybe you're a hiker by name but not by heart.

And it's not really motivation that's the problem.

It's ATTITUDE.

Never underestimate the power of a good attitude when approaching a hiking goal.

I've observed lots of hikers, in many different settings and groups.

And I've noticed that they fall into 3 general categories in terms of attitude.

Which translates into their level of motivation for hiking, and their ability to motivate others to hike.

Let's peek at these hikers to see if any of them are able to motivate you to keep going on a tough hike, or come back for more.


ALPHA HIKERS

Out in front, taking the lead on every decision, knowing exactly what should be done or how many miles to go before stopping... have you met these folks on the trail?

Their posture shouts "I'm the leader!"

If you're a hiker just starting out, beginning to gain skills and confidence, these are the folks you should be hiking with.

Learn from them, listen to their words. Watch their actions.

These alpha hikers attempt to motivate others through sheer force of will, using emphatic gestures and words like "must" and "will" to get you back to the trail head.

Bonus: You can take comfort in their knowledge base if something goes wrong.

  • They will know what to do, or at least have an opinion about what to do, in every situation.

Their motivation for being on the trail?

  • Being in charge!

FOLLOWERS

Go with the flow hikers are glad to be part of the herd, happy to go as far or as short of a distance as you'd like, content to take pictures or soak their feet in a cold pool at the base of the waterfall.

This type of hiker is great in a group setting, where the route has been laid out, someone else is keeping track of the turn around time, and the weather is good.

  • If things get dicey, though, this hiker can be a detriment at worst, or no help at all at best.

So don't hike only with other followers, if that's you. It could be risky.

Their motivation for hiking?

  • Social interactions.

Motivational or not?

This brings us back to hiking motivation.

I find the alpha type of hiker lacking in the ability to easily motivate other hikers.

  • S/he has such never ending exuberance and staying power that other folks feel worn down or overwhelmed, rather than motivated.
  • You might become a bit resentful of taking orders from the alpha hiker, too.

The second type of hiker, the follower, is also unable to generate hiking motivation for others.

  • It's not that they're wimpy, but their comfort zone forces them to defer decisions to others.
  • Rarely do they attempt to instil hiking motivation in others. Instead, they focus on sharing their own experience of the trail.

Well, there must be some middle ground, or I wouldn't have told you there were 3 categories, right?


Time to introduce the...

INDIVIDUALISTS

Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.

Both have their places on the trail.

Deferring gracefully to someone else is a beautiful attribute to have, when it's called for.

Standing firm, putting forth your knowledge when it's essential for navigation, insisting on safety margins - also beautiful attributes.

And confident individualists have perfected the fine art of discerning how to choose the appropriate route (another little hiking pun - sorry).

Can an individualist motivate anyone else?

I have proof that they can.

I have been in groups of 10+ people and watched this type of hiker step up to the task of getting every tired, dirty, wet and hungry person safely to the camp site just before dark.

How?

  • By using humor and compassion, in measured doses.
  • And sometimes by offering to carry gear to lighten someone's pack.

These hikers are the folks I admire.

They know that sometimes people get themselves into uncomfortable situations:

  • blisters from new boots
  • ill fitting packs picked out in a hurry and now digging into raw hip bones
  • signing up for hiking trips they weren't physically conditioned to tackle
  • letting poor weather conditions make them feel vulnerable

It takes skill to walk the line between bludgeoning these folks with common sense for their own good, and cutting them too much slack.

Individualist hikers know how to walk that line, with grace and a calm demeanor.

Their motivation for hiking with others?

  • Passing on their knowledge and giving a hand up the learning curve

Hiking motivation summed up

Now you've seen 3 approaches to the trail, and you must have drawn a few conclusions about hiking motivation.

Here's the thought I'd like to leave you with:

Hiking motivation needs to be internal first.

The thoughts that routinely play in our own heads will determine how we lead others to do the right thing on the trail, even when it's hard or unpopular:

  • Turn around although the summit is close.
  • Take a rest break even when not "feeling" tired.
  • Take water breaks before the thirst drive kicks in.
  • Dip deep and make it to base camp before daylight fades.
  • Give the right-of-way to the bear by spending 30 minutes sitting on a rock.

And that's when you'll know which type of hiker you really are.

Do you give orders, give up, or give your expertise?

Any of these may be appropriate, but it depends on the situation.

And here's a fact: You will need to use at least one of these styles on yourself if the going gets tough on a hiking trail.

It pays to think about which one you align with naturally, so you can step out of character to get the job done when the time comes.

  • Not to be dramatic, but your life might literally depend on you taking a back seat, or speaking up, or making a big decision - even when it doesn't feel comfortable.

Personal challenge

Try all 3 approaches to hiking motivation, and see which one feels best.

Or take a hike with a leader from each of the three types (although finding a hiking group led by a follower might be an oxymoronic challenge).

Which situation motivated you to enjoy the hike? Or to help others on the trail?

Great facts to have about yourself!


You can read more about social hiking here.



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