There are mental health lessons to be learned from nearly every activity. For NoStigmas volunteer and contributor Mike Bushman, the most indelible of those lessons were embedded on hiking trails. During the next few months, we will share the best of those lessons, and how they apply to everyday life for so many.

12) Prepare to go alone, but enjoy when you have company


When my wife and I started dating, we went canoeing, hiking, picnicking. The outdoors were part of our routine. Then we married. I quickly learned that she couldn’t stand bugs or sweat. Her skater-ground knees turned into pain generators too quickly for her to enjoy the long hikes I enjoyed.


Some people are fortunate enough to spend nearly their entire lives with a partner they enjoy. Most of us need to be comfortable with substantial time alone, whether that alone time is in intermittent large chunks between relationships or with a spouse or partner only checking in by text at night just to make sure we made it back to our sleeping bag.


For most of our marriage, I barely had the time to spend outdoors. I hiked infrequently enough that it didn’t much matter that I was alone when I did. In recent years, with her deeply career focused and me enjoying writing and volunteer work, I’ve been able to spend substantially more hours outdoors.


I prepare for trips as if I will be alone, but always enjoy company.


On Pikes Peak, I was fortunate that Doug, a 24-year-old forest firefighter from Utah, decided he preferred to have a hiking companion rather than moving faster alone. He could have made the hike in less time, but we talked on the flatter sections, providing welcome distraction from what became trudging in several spots. In the Tetons, a pharmacist from Indianapolis joined me for half of one hike. In Yellowstone, it was two women who helped me get through the end of a brutal day. My youngest brother has joined some trips, adding to their memorability.


Often, though, I’ll take 8- to 15-hour hikes alone. I get lost in my thoughts, lost in the beauty, focused on footing. When hiking alone, I choose days hikes. Returning to a campground or motel after a long day gives me the chance to reach out and connect to others, if that’s what I need that particular day.


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