Hit the Trail: What I Learned From Hiking Once a Week

Sometimes the well-worn road is exactly what you need

This article appears in print in the June 2018 issue, as part of the "85 Best Outdoor Adventures" cover story. Click here to subscribe.

Rugged, outdoorsy folks and experienced hikers in search of natural solitude are not fans of company on the trail. They also don’t enjoy sharing the trail with those playing music, talking loudly in large groups—or on their cell phones. So, Seattle hikers often look down their noses at some of the popular day hikes a short distance from Seattle: Tiger Mountain, Mount Si, Little Si, Rattlesnake Ledge. To be clear, there are better hikes to be found, all within spitting distance, especially if you are looking for solitude. But lately, I’ve become a fan of the familiar. Why? The familiar can become fabulous.

Last summer, I decided to spend one day a week hiking, solo. The outdoors have always given me a mental boost, something I was in especially desperate need of last year, when the news cycle seemed to veer between the apocalyptic and the farcical. I decided to take a mental and physical health break, one day a week, unplugged, on a trail. But that break had to work around career and family obligations. I needed a quick hit: a fast, close hike that fit into my lifestyle. I decided on the Little Si trail, or the longer Mount Si hike as time allowed.

I tried to hike weekdays as often as I could. On some days I left early, getting to the trailhead by 8 a.m., and was back to work by lunch. Other days, I left work in South Lake Union at 3 p.m., drove through the Mercer Mess and out to the trailhead, shedding work clothes for workout clothes in the trailhead parking lot. I could start hiking by 4 p.m., be at the summit at 5, back down the trail in 45 minutes and home for dinner. I hiked this trail at dawn, at midday or in the evening, when—thanks to our long summer days—I came back into Seattle just as the sun was setting. On the trail, I met runners, teens in much-maligned flip-flops, even grandmothers with purses, wearing sensible (though not sensible for hiking) shoes. I got to know every switchback, resting spot and secret tree on the hike. By the end of the summer, every day on the trail was a day with an old friend. Some of the chipmunks even started to look familiar.

One of the advantages of a trail close to the city is always being in cell range. While this is anathema to many hikers, I found it an advantage as a solo female hiker. I could always let someone know where I was, though I actually felt comfort knowing another hiker was probably just around the corner. And yes, once, I took a critical business call, standing on the side of the trail, as some other hikers glared at me as they passed. I was that person. But I was able to wrap up a business deal, eat a granola bar, summit Mount Si and soak in that Cascade alpine goodness—not bad for an afternoon. Move along, people: It’s a cattle trail, not the backcountry.

Hiking beats the gym any day of the week. Seattle has an embarrassment of riches; the outside adventures begin just minutes from downtown. Who wants to be in a pungent gym, with the noise of TVs blaring Kardashians and politics, when we so desperately need a break from both? Work the body, calm the mind. Just hit the trail, the dusty trail, and make it your own. We’re blessed in the Northwest. There’s no excuse not to be standing on top of the world every week.

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