One Step at a Time: Take a Walk, Take a Hike!

Among the best ways to relax, escape and ruminate in recovery, it requires just two legs, one hour and zero dollars. Here's our guide to getting going

July 26, 2022
Man walking down a path toward the Cape of Rodon, Albania

The advice to “change people, places and things” and the maxim “wherever you go, there you are” get a lot of airtime in recovery circles. The former means steering clear of potential triggers from the past; the latter is a warning that you can’t run away from yourself. But you could choose to interpret either in a sunnier fashion: an invitation to vacation!

OK, you’re slammed with job stuff, rehab stuff, legal woes, yearslong-suppressed emotions and salvage work on your relationships, but getting away, even if just for an hour and a breath of outside air, is a time-tested, sobriety-approved decompression strategy. Bill W. himself once wrote that whenever he felt depressed and tired, he’d start walking, starting with just a quarter-mile, breathing deeply throughout: “The walking and especially the breathing were powerful affirmations toward life and living, and away from failure and death” (No. 92 here).

I can’t promise all that, but I find that taking a short, easy hike on a favorite path is a great way to clear my head, get some perspective and perhaps do a little reflecting, meditating or just mind-wandering. A longer trek on an unfamiliar trail brings an added boost of endorphins and dopamine, a dose of excitement and discovery, and a bit of cardio to someone who isn’t that into the idea of half-marathons. (Though if you are, go for it!) There’s also something to be said for a change of scenery — a change of place at a change of pace. Ready? Stride with me.

A group of hikers in the mountains

1) Quick, Not Dirty: The Nearby Walk-It-Off Route

At your desk and out of your mind? Here’s where it helps to have a few 5-to-20-minute walks in your pocket. Can you get from your chair to somewhere quiet and pleasant in that time? Or come up with an errand to run (walk)? A lunch spot that’s a little out of the way? You can wing it if you just need to move, but you may find it helps to have a sense of direction or a destination, literally and in a broader sense.

2) Rise and Stride, Evening Stroll: The Routine Walk

You’ll hear a lot in recovery about the importance of keeping routines. Sure, routines are for stiffs, but some can be invigorating, and I’d put the daily walk in that bucket. Find a nearby park, beach, square, bridge, garden — or a few variations — and allocate 30 to 60 minutes a day. You can be present or introspective here; you can count your steps, as Bill W. liked to, or use a step-counting app or smartwatch that congratulates you when you’ve walked for 10 whole minutes in a row, as I like to.

3) The Quickie Vacation: A Three-Hour Tour or a Day Hike

This one takes a little more planning, but you’ll feel better, sleep deeper and turn that thousand-yard stare into a bird’s-eye view.

When I lived in New York City, I might set aside a few hours to traipse around Flushing Meadows in Queens and imagine the 1964 World’s Fair once set up there, or trundle up Kaaterskill Falls on the Hudson River, where old-timey American landscape painters loitered for inspiration. When I lived in central Florida, I’d tramp around Sebastian Inlet State Park with the gators and skeeters, or loop around the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed buildings of a college campus in Lakeland. Some of these barely count as hiking, in the granola sense — you don’t have to be particularly crunchy or even outdoorsy to get into this game!

AllTrailsHiking Project and Gaia GPS are free apps you can use to pull up myriad close-by hiking paths, along with notes on distance, elevation, time, difficulty and worth-it-ness. That’s about all you need to start on solid footing, but consider treating yourself to a lightweight daypack for a swimsuit, sweatshirt and snacks; a rough-and-ready water bottle; and decent sneakers. (Trail-ready shadespants and trekking poles are strictly optional.)

Plus, now you’re ready to fire up another recommended recovery exercise, Getting A Hobby. Bring your sketchpad, bring your canvas, bring your journal, bring your camera, bring your telescope, bring your crystals and essential oils and exorcism, uh, wands — none of my business.

Who knows, maybe you’ll get into camping, backpacking, kayaking, mountaineering, free-soloing and all that other nutso “Grizzly Man” stuff. But for now: Nice day out there, eh?

Man standing in an ancient cairn circle, staring up

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