100 Hikes

I met Kolby Kirk via twitter.com/100hikes. After checking out his website at 100hikes.com, I was intrigued by the way he was able to take the scientifically proven fitness and health benefits of hiking and create a self made fitness program.

Kolby’s fitness program is one that could work for anyone who can walk. The program is one that combines creativity, nature’s wonders, accountability and much more. For accountability, Kolby committed to posting his fitness promise online “I, Kolby Kirk, promise to hike one hundred times by January 1st, 2010.” But Kolby didn’t stop with just a promise; he has also committed to posting each hike at 100hikes.com and has defined what a hike is to keep him on track:

  1. A “hike” is defined as a trek of two miles or longer over mostly unpaved paths. There will not be any “hikes” to the store.
  2. Each hike must have a definitive end before the next one starts. In other words, I can’t say that I’ve gone on two hikes because I stopped for water at the half way point of a four-mile hike. However, I might go on more than one hike in a day, such as on a camping trip or before and after work.
  3. Proof of a hike must be posted on this site to count. “Proof” is defined as a photo, video, or GPS tracking. This will keep myself from cheating (not that I would) and saying I hiked on said date when I really just sat on my ass and watched reruns of Futurama on TV or something.

Kolby has opened the 100hikes program up for anyone else to join him, if you are in Southern California, he would enjoy your company on his next hike or a new hiking trail suggestion. Get to know Kolby Kirk a little better and hear some of his extraordinary outdoor experiences through his TracksAndTrails.ca hiking interview below!

How and where were you introduced to the outdoors and how did you begin the 100 hikes program?

I have fond memories of going on weekend camping trips with the family in Oregon, where I was born and raised. We would attach the pop-up camper to car and hit the road for a weekend of camping. I remember the freedom I had in the woods to explore on my own, learning firsthand about nature. I became a pretty good frog catcher, I must admit.

We made some long-distant moves in my adolescent years – Oregon to Minnesota, Minnesota to California – and each move introduced me to completely different environments. I would spend hours exploring the natural areas near my house. My parents were big believers of getting outside for the weekend, so we went on many road trips. Although I have lived in massive urban areas since I was 10 years old, my parents showed me how unspoiled nature could only be a short drive away. I joined the Cub Scouts in Minnesota and then the Boy Scouts in California. Scouting taught me important outdoor skills, like backpacking, as well as a respect for nature. All of these things stayed with me as I grew into an adult in Southern California.

But sometimes life can get in the way of a nice walk in the woods. Earlier this year, I realized that I had not dedicated enough time to get out and hike. In 2008, I had taken a few international backpacking trips, but locally, I had only done about 20 miles of hiking for the year. Somewhere along the line, my job had taken over my life and my hiking boots had started to gather dust in the closet. In an effort to get in shape, I resolved in May that I would hike one-hundred times before 2010. (i.e. 100 hikes in 240 days) I just completed hike #57 last weekend in Utah. I’m on schedule to hike all one hundred by my deadline, December 31st.

In regards to physical fitness, how has this self made program been better / worse than other fitness programs you have used or thought about?

I have a hard time working out in the gym. I always feel like I have something to prove to the others working out, a bad habit I picked up in high school football. Also, fitness is the main reason for being in the gym whereas there are many reasons to take a hike. I’m still trying to figure out if I’m a naturalist who likes to hike or a hiker who likes to study nature. There’s a thin red line between hiking for fitness’ sake and hiking to enjoy the nature at a leisurely pace. Hiking by definition should include nature observation, but as a photographer and a very curious person, I’m always stopping on the trail to study a plant, insect, or bird. In that aspect, this 100hikes resolution isn’t the best fitness program, but it’s working for me. I’ve hiked over 250 miles in the last 4 months and I’d say I’m in better shape now than I’ve been in years.

I often go to the mountains for the peace of mind it gives; do you think that hiking for fitness is a good way to combine the mind, body and soul?

I love to hike for the physical, mental, and spiritual growth it offers. I like to tell friends that hiking has been scientifically proven to make life better: A recent study said that hiking helps increase the endorphins released into your body, which in turn has positive effects on your mood. But there’s something about hiking that is beyond science. Getting out away from the bustling city and into the wilderness is very spiritual for me. I feel at home in the wilderness and the calmness it offers. I find that I have time on the trail to meditate. I don’t mean the Eastern concept of meditation – sitting down with my eyes closed and legs crossed – but rather a calming of my mind allowing me to think about ways of self improvement. I’ve solved quite a few problems in my life by taking a hike.

What has been your favourite hiking or outdoor area?

It’s hard to decide on just one! It really depends on what I’m in the mood for or the time of year. In the spring and fall, I spend many weekends exploring Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. The Mojave Desert offers naturalists and hikers a lot more than one might assume. It’s easy to think of the desert as a harsh, dead landscape, but the foliage and wildlife there is surprisingly attuned to the dry climate. Coyotes, jack rabbits, rattlesnakes, wildflowers, desert tortoises and the Dr. Seuss-ian Joshua Trees all call the Mojave Desert “home.”

During the summer, I like to visit the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which run through eastern California. Hiking among the towering ancient redwoods or the gnarled bristlecone pines – the world’s oldest continuously standing trees – is something every hiker should experience at least once in their life. For my 100hikes resolution, I’ve done seven treks in the Sierras to date, and one in the Mojave (but I’ll be doing more once the temperature drops in the fall.)

Please share an outdoor story related to one of the above areas.

One of the great things about Joshua Tree NP is that close to 80% has been designated as wilderness. Many visitors to the park stick to the paved road and official campsites, but it doesn’t take a lot of hiking to find beautiful desolation. When friends want a true backcountry experience in Joshua Tree, I take them to… well… a secret place. Just a few miles off of the main road, the small box canyon is so secret that I doubt that it gets more than a few visitors a year. I lost my pocket knife on the trail within the canyon one early spring. When I returned three months later, I found it still on the trail where I had dropped it.

Have you ever been lost in the wilderness? If so please describe this adventure and any lessons learned.

I’m a guy. Guys don’t admit to getting lost!!! 🙂 Actually, I’ve been in situations where I knew where I was but didn’t know where I was going. I love to get into those situations. That’s when the true adventure begins. I always take along the “12 essentials” when I hike – even if I expect to only be on the trail for a few hours. I don’t mind getting lost, but to be lost without the means of survival isn’t enjoyable to say the least. No, it’s rare that I would get into a situation where I didn’t know where I was, although I have taken a few wrong turns and ended up hiking on animal trails. It’s a wonderful moment to realize that you are walking on a path made by animals rather than man. There’s something primal about it.

Can you share any unique encounters with wild animals?

In 2001, I was camping by myself in California’s San Gorgonio Wilderness and was attacked by a bear. At two o’clock in the morning, I woke up to hear something sniffing around outside my one-man tent. A moment later, my tent was shaking violently from side to side… while I was in it! I yelled and the attacker scampered away back into the woods, each heavy footstep bring down my heart rate. When I couldn’t hear any more footsteps, I turned in my tent to notice that the bear had made two perfect crescent-shaped bite marks in my tent’s rain fly just above my neck. Needless to say, I had a hard time going back to sleep. I hold no grudges towards bears and have encountered many since without incident.

If not previously mentioned, have you ever completed a thru-hike or multi-day backpacking trip and what nuggets of wisdom did you glean from it?

As much as I love hearing the sound of nature while hiking, I’ve come to realize that music helps me on long hikes. A good rock song playing on my iPod rejuvenates my spirit more than any Powerbar could. For hike #42, I trekked through Onion Valley in the Eastern Sierras. During a tough section of switchbacks, the soundtrack for Into The Wild came on. What a rush! At that moment, I had just reached a large cathedral-like area surrounded by mountain peaks. My goal of Kearsarge Pass (11760 ft/3584 m) had just come into view for the first time. The moment was a highlight of that trek and the music added so much to the experience.

What is your favourite outdoor website?

ModernHiker.com – Casey gives me a lot of great SoCal hiking ideas. I also love the ease of trails.com to find trails at a moment’s notice.

What is your favourite outdoor hiking gear store?

Recreational Equipment, Inc., a popular US outdoor retailer. I’ve been an REI member for a decade. I am such a gear head, in fact, that I call my closet “REI.” Friends of mine can’t use the excuse of not camping because they don’t have the gear. Chances are, I have two of what they need. “No sleeping bag? Tent? Stove? No problem! I’ve got that for you.”

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