Rolling out of bed in the early hours before the sun rose, general engineering freshman Gabriel Santos and his friends found themselves hurriedly hiking up the Cerro Alto trail in the dark to see the sunrise from the highest point in San Luis Obispo.
“Everything did not want [the hike] to happen,” Santos said. “We went on the wrong road and by the time we got to Cerro Alto campgrounds, we had 45 minutes to do the whole hike. So we just ran up it, but I don’t know, seeing the sunrise made it all worth it.”
This is only one of the many scenic views that makes hiking worth the effort for Santos.
Many students like Santos take advantage of Cal Poly’s surroundings and accessibility to hiking. However, most do not take this opportunity as frequently as him.
Santos promised himself he would hike every day of winter quarter. His roommate, environmental management and protection freshman Kyle Rathbone, said Santos kept this commitment so far.
“When he told me he was hiking everyday, I thought, ‘Wow this guys is crazy. I couldn’t do that.’ But I believe in him. I believe in his perseverance,” Rathbone said.
Santos said the decision began as a spur of the moment idea, but became both a mental and physical challenge.
“I came back on a Saturday from the break and I was like, ‘Aww back to school,’ and I wasn’t too happy […] but while hiking, while even being wet, I was super happy,” Santos said. “And I told myself, ‘If this is what makes me happy, I am going to keep doing this every day.’”
Santos hiked roughly twice a week prior to this quarter and loves being outdoors. He said his appreciation for nature has been most heavily influenced by his father.
Typically, Santos decides when and where he will hike when he wakes up in the morning. He uses the website AllTrails.com to find new trails around San Luis Obispo County and to search for rugged, challenging hikes. When Santos plans on going somewhere he has never been, he prefers hiking with friends so he can share the experience of discovering something new.
Although his hikes aren’t usually planned out in detail, Santos says how long he spends hiking depends on how many classes he has that day.
“Hiking organizes your day because you need to find time to do it and the rest of your time is, like, how you are going to allot that time,” he said.
Besides organization, Santos said hiking affects his life in several different ways. He said it has led to a healthy eating regimen, something that gives him fuel and energy. Hiking also motivates Santos and gives him something to look forward to every day.
“Any time students have time to get away from the built environment to replenish and refresh themselves and get perspective can benefit their health and their well being,” Genie Kim, director of wellbeing and health education, said.
As long as students have proper gear and stay hydrated and well nourished, Kim said hiking has physical and mental rewards.
Despite the benefits, there are days when hiking seems more like a chore than a leisure activity for Santos. However, he does not let himself get distracted.
“Tuesdays and Thursday[s] I finish [class] at 6 p.m. and I need to go hike at night and sometimes it’s raining and so I try not to think about it and put my boots on and get out there,” Santos said.
Once he is “out there,” Santos uses the strenuous parts of his hikes to relieve stress. By distancing himself from technology, he is able to appreciate all that is small and humbling in nature.
“If you think about the students in general and the technology around us and how much we live an urban lifestyle […] we are just so accessible, we constantly have our devices on us […] so some of the benefits of going out into nature and going on a hike can help us get away from that, and that changes the way we perceive our environment around us,” Kim said.
According to Kim, scientific research proves nature has a positive effect on behavior, happiness and creativity. In the end, Santos agrees submersing yourself in nature always pays off. He said the improvements he sees within himself remind him of why he loves the challenge of hiking and
He also said by surrounding himself with people who hold him accountable, he has no excuses to waver in his commitment. For example, when he sees his roommate get back from working out, it motivates Santos and vice versa.
“I see him hiking and it makes me feel like I should not waste all my time doing nothing and watching Netflix,” Rathbone said. “It just makes me want to be productive.”
By bettering themselves, Rathbone and Santos also encourage one another. Rathbone said he wouldn’t be surprised if Santos hikes once a day for the rest of the school year, not just the quarter.
“My main support is just my own fulfillment, which I think is very important, but if hiking involves helping other people get motivated, that’s awesome,” Santos said. “I will keep doing it for myself and for those other people.”