How This Journalist Renewed Her Sense of Self While Helicopter-Hiking


I’m still glowing from having just returned from helicopter-hiking.

To be dropped into a remote landscape and to hike to a hidden glacial waterfall is a heaven-on-earth experience. I’d already been heli-hiking for several days in New Zealand when I had the quintessential helicopter-hiking experience. Dion Mathewson, the pilot of the R40, the 4-passenger Robinson helicopter that he operates out of Cedar Lodge where we were staying, flew my guide and me into Boundary Creek.

He swooped us down into a wild valley in the middle of nowhere, exactly like I’d imagined. With the propeller still whirling, he yelled that he’d be back about 4:30, in six hours.

The low valley floor was crisscrossed with rocky streams, and steep mountain ranges rose on all sides. We slogged through a swampy, muddy marshland toward the trickle of a waterfall we could barely see. Since there are no predators in New Zealand, no bears and no snakes, no poison oak and no poison ivy, those weren’t the dangers we had to watch out for: Instead we had to be careful with each step--to lift your boot all the way up out of the muck, and then locate a safest spot to place it back down. This was mindful-hiking at its most extreme. Out in the middle of nowhere with no one around you don’t want to twist your ankle, or worse.

The sight of the first graceful waterfall was worth wading through swampy marshland for a hour. “Just wait,“ said Ket, my guide. “The best is yet to come.”

After inhaling that first waterfall, we headed back, and started fording the chunky creekbed. Sometimes we were wading in freezing mountain water up to our knees.

For almost four hours we crossed the creekbed sixty plus times, and still we hadn’t heard or seen this next huge waterfall. I teased Ket that it didn’t exist. Ket Hazledine, 57, and a world-class mountain climber—she intended to climb the Matterhorn in Switzerland in the summer— smiled, and kept charging, sure-footed, ahead.

Finally, we came around a corner and hidden by a mountain ridge--was the waterfall! Ket called it “Spectacular,” and it was. To reach such a stunning sight, untouched in nature, unnamed on a map, is a once-in-a-lifetime hiking experience. And it was available only because we got helicoptered into a totally inaccessible valley. At the top of the 70’ vertical drop there was no viewing ledge with a protective guard rail with the obligatory caution sign for tourists, because there were no tourists. And at the edge of the glacial pond there was also no green and yellow government sign like at other tracks in New Zealand because the “Spectacular” waterfall is off the charts.

We positioned ourselves on rocks, wearing raincoats for protection against the spray, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, Ket produced a picnic lunch: a salad picked fresh from her garden, and, because I’d commented that I hadn’t been getting much shellfish in New Zealand, her husband, a fish exporter, contributed crayfish. Biting into the delicious sweet crayfish, in the spray of that waterfall—and I know this will sound corny-- but I felt, I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Because we’d arrived by helicopter, we didn’t have to trudge all the way back. We could lay down and relax until the helicopter came for us.

It was my best day in nature—ever, and it caused me to question why when I take out my passport I’m most likely to travel to places in nature. Whether it’s trekking in Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, struggling across the Nature Walk marshland in Bhutan, or hiking in the mid-Atlas Mountains in Morocco, why am I also always lacing up my hiking boots, strapping on my fanny pack, and grabbing a water bottle?

I suspect it’s because I grew up on Lake Washington in Seattle. It was around that gorgeous evergreen lake where stately evergreens grow down to its shoreline that I first started walking in nature, though I wouldn’t have put it that way when I was five years old.

Back when kids could wander out safely by themselves, I’d leave early, carefully cross Lake Washington Boulevard, meander over to the swing sets--take a pump or two--and then I’d leave the public playground and enter my very favorite private place--the walking path in the forest that led up to the middle of the peninsula. That path, always unpopulated by other people, was my hidden, secret place. I still remember the green, musty smell and the spongy softness of the footpath.

My parents and I certainly never thought little Jo Ann is getting smarter by spending her days out in nature, but recent scientific studies prove that getting outside not only does people good but makes them smarter. In an experiment at the University of Michigan, participants took memory and attention tests after strolling in a botanical garden and along city streets. The nature walk improved their results as much as 20 percent, while the sidewalk version had no effect. The research found that even looking at nature imagery had a positive effect on concentration. But we know that’s not nearly as much fun. And many of us are familiar with that well-publicized study where patients recovering from surgery were facing a brick wall versus recovering in rooms overlooking trees. The patients confronted with an expanse of brick requested narcotics at a higher rate, complained more, and spent longer in recovery than those with the leafy vista.

My next travel adventure? Hiking the glaciers in Iceland with a favorite grandson.

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.