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The Mathematics of Hiking

The Mathematics of Hiking

You might ask yourself what has maths got to do with hiking? Surely being in the outdoors means you don’t need to think about maths or numbers; surely you can just chill and enjoy nature in bliss and escape into thinking about nothing - but you’d be wrong. 

Before you know it, actually at the very start of any hike, you’ll already find yourself looking at numbers – be it on your watch, distance on a map, elevation, etc. Actually, I have to confess, I actually like numbers and there is no shortage of gadgets out there to cater to this need. GPS devices, sports watches, temperature and odometer gauges, VO2 Max, time, speed, up down round about statistics. So much for being in nature.

Even when I am not analysing stats, ironically I catch myself counting steps quietly in my head – for whatever reason. I’ll be walking one minute enjoying the scenery and then the next I’m counting…56, 57, 58….and an unprompted dialogue starts in my head..”I wonder what my step count will be by the time I reach the top of the hill, the next corner, that tree over there?” (Inevitably it’s always wrong and pointless, but somehow, I keep counting). Maybe counting is a type of therapy, maybe it’s the soothing monotony, or maybe it’s trying to have some grip of control over the uncontrollable? 

No sooner have I forced myself to stop counting steps, I find myself asking - How far is it? How many kilometres have we walked? What time will we get into camp? How many kilometres to go? Fortunately, the magical forces that cause me to count numbers begin to wane the closer I get into camp. 78,79,80…. gets drowned out by – “what will I have for dinner tonight?” “Will it be the Beef Lasagne or the Veggie Moussaka?” “Which one has the more calories, how long will it take to cook, how much millimetres of water do I need to rehydrate my meal?” Dammit! There are those damn numbers again!

 

There is a cure for this apparently. I’ve been told that you should leave your watch and other number-telling devices behind when you go into the wide outdoors. Use the sun and moon, wake when the birds start singing. Navigate using the stars. Eat when you are hungry and not at a particular time on your watch. Fantastic! Now all I need to do is figure out how to stop counting steps!

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