I love waking up to the smell of the crisp, mountain air. A gentle breeze rustles the trees. It’s a much-needed respite from the musty city air I’m used to. Most people can’t tell the difference until they have experienced it, but the contrast is unmistakable.
For me, backpacking is a great avenue to escape the stresses of dental school. It offers a moment of peace to reflect in nature, which can significantly improve your mental health as well as provide a means for physical exercise. Since nearly everyone can walk, backpacking is an accessible activity for many people. Hiking trails for beginners are as short as one mile and those seeking a challenge can tackle trails as long as 20 miles. No matter the length of the trail, backpackers from all physical fitness levels are welcome to move at their own pace. The best part of backpacking is that it offers so many ways to feel accomplished. For some, enjoying the journey is more satisfying than reaching the destination. However, my favorite aspect is finding hidden gems along the trail, such as a waterfall or a famous bouldering location.
While backpacking hiking trails is my way of relaxing, bouldering is my way to improve strength. Bouldering is a great alternative to those who find going to the gym too repetitive. Plus, building your grip strength through climbing has benefits that can be applied to practicing dentistry. Improving finger strength can help steady your hands for deep cleanings, applying rubber dams, holding a handpiece or even torquing implants. For those who enjoy the social aspect of hobbies, bouldering has a close-knit community that encourages camaraderie and mutual support for other climbers. Here are some tips to get you started with these new hobbies:
- Start small. If you’re inexperienced with bouldering, there are many indoor rock climbing walls that offer varying levels of difficulty, from VB (easiest) to V17 (extremely difficult). Once you’ve built your strength and feel more comfortable with your skill, you can consider transitioning to bouldering outdoors.
- Do your research. If you’re new to backpacking, make sure you pack everything you need for a successful weekend outdoors. When choosing a trail, make sure you know what to expect so that you don’t get lost! Loss of cell phone service in the wilderness is quite common and you want to make sure you’re able to get back safely. Additionally, if you bought new hiking shoes, make sure you break them in by walking a smaller trail first so you don’t get blisters tackling a longer trail with a heavy pack.
- Find a friend. While finding a climbing partner is not essential for indoor gyms with floor mats to break your fall, it can be helpful to have someone experienced by your side to help you learn the ropes and build your technique. However, once you transition to outdoor bouldering, having a climbing partner to spot you is highly recommended for safety reasons.
- Make it a social event. Backpacking can be a great way to connect with new friends, so consider inviting your classmates to join! You never know who else might want to pick up this hobby with you. Like bouldering, it’s highly recommended to not go backpacking or camping alone for safety reasons. Remember to look out for one another.
Unlike most physical sports, there is less competition between climbers and a larger emphasis about pushing your own limits. Similarly, as future dentists, we are always trying to do better and improve our own skills. Whether you’re challenging your limits chairside or mountainside, consider connecting with nature to help you unwind. You never know where it might take you.
~ Jeffrey Asano, Los Angeles ’18