Hiking Slow: What You Can Learn From a Snail
If you’re seeking to deepen your connection with nature, then just find the closest trail and go … slow.
When you live in the Pacific Northwest, you come to accept the reality of shifted seasons. The winter solstice comes before real winter, and summer doesn’t really start until July. But by March, the longing for longer days has set its hooks. It’s an ache in your chest, a restlessness that has you thumbing through photos and trip reports for alpine valleys that won’t be melted out for 4 months. While the rain and snow fall outside, you can almost smell the summer meadows buzzing with bees. You crave big hiking days like they are food or water. But you’re stuck in the here and now, in this sodden shoulder season with mucky trails and short days.
If you’ve got the cash to burn, you can find longer days with a rushed road trip or a flight. But there’s an easier way to silence the longing and still your itchy feet. Just find the closest trail and go … slow.
No. Like, really, really slow.
To hike slowly is to gain a new perspective on familiar trails. It’s an art form requiring discipline and whimsy, focus and distraction. The slow hiker is a student of contradictions. Speed gets plenty of glory. It helps us burn off steam, strengthen our legs and set the outer limits of human achievement. But if you’re seeking to deepen your connection with nature during this difficult season, then slow is the next big thing.
For the best slow hikes, look no farther than your own city parks or close-to-town favorites. Hit a nearby trail before work and plan to go a mile — or much less! See how slowly you can go. Some of us are born snails. We saunter with ease. But for many hikers — and the majority of my fellow WTA staffers — the art of the dawdle is hard.
So, I give you a list of tricks to turn your hike into a wander, your run into a ramble, and help you find fresh joy right here, right now.
- Stand in one place with your eyes closed. (It will feel weird. Do it anyway.) Listen until you hear a bird call out, and then hear that call returned.
- Get down on your belly and snap a photo of any ol' fern, moss or bit of interesting lichen that catches your eye. If you’ve got an imagination (or a kid to entertain) imagine it as the landscape of a far-off planet.
- Pack an over-the-top picnic. Make it a feast. (You have, after all, saved yourself all that money by not going to the tropics.) Walk a half-mile at your slowest possible pace, and then celebrate like you’ve just finished the Wonderland Trail in a day.
- Go “plogging,” a terrible word for a terrific idea out of Sweden: pick up trash while you hike.
- If you have toddlers who are easily sidetracked, ask them to lead and set the pace.
- Leash-training is a great way to wear out your dog in short distances. Pack lots of training treats and work her brain teaching her to be a hiking dog with perfect manners.
- Take three full breaths between every single step. You might look like you’re caught in slo-mo mode, but who cares? You’re outside in nature!
There is no right or wrong way to hike slow. No matter how you do it, a good springtime wander will soothe your soul and still the gnawing need for speed.
This piece was originally published in May 2019.