A little over a year ago my family moved to a house near the north edge of Salt Lake City. Although access to real mountains is not great — it’s about a three-hour walk to the nearest 8000′ peak and a major slog to a 9000′ peak — the foothill access is excellent. At the same time, after way too much sedentary work, sedentary travel, and time at home with small kids, I found myself with high blood pressure and needing to lose weight, so I started doing a 45-minute hike each day, with a bit over 750′ elevation gain/loss.
After a year of this I ended up in decent shape and around 20 pounds lighter. The cool part, though, is that 365 days of 750 feet comes out to 50 vertical miles hiked. I was a little disappointed to compute that I’ll never be able to hike to the equivalent of geosynchronous orbit, but low Earth orbit should be attainable this year. Of course due to travel and being sick, I missed some days, but also there were plenty of days where I hiked 2000-3000 vertical feet, so probably the average was maintained. The hardest part is not missing days when weather is crappy or work and kids make life busy. The solution, however, turned out to be easy: a good facemask and a powerful headlamp.
Although hiking the same set of trails day after day threatens to become boring, there has been a nice unintended benefit. Since little brain power is required, I get a lot of unstructured time to think. As far as I can tell, this has improved the quality of my work quite a bit; I usually return from a hike with three or four new ideas for me or my students to try out. Even if only a few percent of these ideas are useful, the time is still well spent. Hiking is even better than the shower for generating new ideas — who knew?