Friday, February 20, 2015

16. Hiker's High

People talk about "runner's high," that elusive moment where, during a run, suddenly everything becomes light and free and easy. In scientific terms, it's when your body reaches maximum saturation of a certain amount of mind and body chemicals that elevates your brain momentarily above feeling pain. In metaphorical terms, it's like being carried on an the back of an elephant like a maharaja. It's like achieving liftoff, except you stay on the ground.

This weird body high can occur for any strenuous physical activity, though I would imagine that certain physical activities could be more terrifying than others. For example, I have never done any ice climbing, but if I were halfway up a cliff face and suddenly lost all feeling in my body and became inexplicably euphoric, the possible consequences could be more dire. Generally speaking, one's face is a lot farther from the ground when ice climbing than when running. This isn't to say that people experiencing runner's high immediately fall over. But one's senses are numbed for a bit, which means that falling down is possible... but maybe that's only true for Clever Girl, who is apt to run into things and fall down on a regular basis. 

Just like runners, hikers also experience a certain high at times, where all the pain and heaviness and world-weariness suddenly evaporates, and nothing has any weight. I hiked for 6 months, and only achieved "true" hiker's high a few times. I wish I could tell you what triggered it, but I can't. Sometimes it would happen while I was on mile 2, and sometimes it would happen when I was at mile 24. It was completely random, and maybe lasted for only a few minutes. I already used up my good similes to describe what it feels like to get an athlete's high, but I'll use one more: It's like having fully functional jelly legs and a brain full of circus peanuts.

You know those moving walkways in airports, those flat escalators in the long hallways between terminals? Using those is like being in a high school relationship. You go from walking slowly, completely absorbed by the doldrums of your existence, dragging your baggage behind you, then suddenly you are just FLYING. People on either side of you who aren't on the walkway seem to be moving through molasses as you walk at normal speed but are somehow propelled through space. You feel superhuman, your bags are light, you aren't expending any extra effort but you are achieving ALL your GOALS! And then cruelly, horribly, it stops without any warning at all, and you stumble off the end of it, disoriented and confused, but mostly just really embarrassed. And you wonder if, in the immortal words of the indomitable Taylor Swift, was the "high worth the pain"?

Coming down from a hiker's high is a bit like crash landing, but it's absolutely worth it. It's a random gift from the hiker gods, who reach down and carry you for a few moments before gently putting you back on earth to continue your journey. But really, like I said earlier, it's just a face-slap of brain chemicals making everything feel a little bit delightfully wonky for a while.

Moral of the story: Bodies are the weirdest!

Clever Girl

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post. I found this blog by searching for 'hiker's high' and 'runner's high'.
    What you describe is different than the feeling I was trying to research, but I am definitely convinced that certain fairly strenuous exertion has a very positive physical effect.
    I would describe it as standing on the summit of a mountain - the mountains I hike are in the area of 4500 - 6500 ft - and feeling you have "earned" the amazing view.
    I feel different than when I drive somewhere and just get out of the car (e.g. Hurricane Ridge, in the Olympic mountains). It may be the same view, but the exertion of hiking steep trails for several hours has a very pronounced effect upon your mood.
    It might not be hiker's high, but it is at least a 'hiker's mood enhancer.