One of the highlights of my recent trip to the USA was the time spent in Yosemite National Park, California. World renowned for its hiking, rock climbing and outdoor adventure opportunities, this place is unique and spectacular. Huge granite monoliths rise thousands of feet from the valley floor, framing cascading waterfalls and rivers (unfortunately the falls were dry during our visit!) Forests of massive pines and isolated groves of gigantic Sequoias provide habitat for abundant wildlife. It truly is an inspiring place.
While staying in Yosemite Valley, I was interested to learn something of the history of arguably its most noted pioneer, John Muir. He began living and working in the valley during the second half of the nineteenth century, at a time when few people frequented the area. An early advocate of the preservation of wilderness areas who would later become instrumental in developing American Nation Parks, Muir soon recognised the need to protect places like Yosemite. His famed three-night camping trip with US President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 became the catalyst for a National Parks model which has been copied around the world, including Australia.
Muir’s writing and speeches were focused on a concept which we appear to be only beginning to get our heads around one hundred and twenty years later – the importance of being immersed in nature to our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Apparently it was not just as an environmentalist that he was ahead of his time. He championed the benefits of people spending significant periods of time in the mountains and wild places. The motivation behind his push to have wilderness areas protected by federal law was to ensure their unspoilt availability to future generations.
Its hard not to be inspired in a place like Yosemite National Park
This is a concept which is reiterated time and time again throughout the pages of the Bible, where we read about men routinely spending extended periods in the wilderness in order to hear from God. Abraham packed up everything and began roaming the desert with minimal understanding of the required timeframe. Moses spent forty days on Mt Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. David became a fugitive for many years, hanging out in desert locations, caves and the Judean highlands, waiting on God. Elijah retreated to a cave in the mountains, eventually hearing the still, small voice of the Lord. John the Baptist withdrew to remote locations to “Prepare the way of the Lord”, surviving on locusts and wild honey. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days and regularly spent time in the mountains talking to his Father after that. Why are men so drawn to such places?
Sue and I have recently been listening to a podcast series on a phenomenon known as the 3-Day Effect. I have become quite fascinated with the topic. A number of researchers, outdoor enthusiasts and even sceptics have noticed measurable physiological changes to the human body on the third consecutive day of an extended outdoor experience. It seems something happens from the third day onward. Brain patterns are different, creativity is enhanced and subjects report an improvement in their physical and emotional health. This is something well worth considering … perhaps too important to dismiss.
When I look back at my own experience on these hikes over the last two years, I can see evidence of this pattern. On both occasions, I recall a heightened awareness and sense of being at one with my surroundings from day 3 onward. My team mates may even recall an annoying tendency to express what was going on in my head at that time!
Many of us have long suspected a connection between experiences in the outdoors and our general wellbeing. We may even be aware of the personal benefits of being outside. The problem for most of us is we rarely do it for long enough to receive the full effect. There is good evidence to suggest it takes a full two days to overcome the negative influences of our comfortable, sedentary lifestyles to begin to really live in harmony with our environment in the way God intended.
This is one of the things which is so exciting about our extended walk through Kosciuszko National Park – we get to be out there long enough for our Creator to break through our barriers and speak to us.
And … the thing that really gets me fired up about our 2020 hike is revealed by a quick study of our intended route. What looms as our greatest challenge – the Jagungal day (day 3 or 4, depending on which group you’re in) – will be tackled after this time threshold has passed! So, in theory (and hopefully in practice), we will be at our best and most receptive!
I can’t wait to see what happens on the third day and beyond on the 2020 KNP walk!