DTLA - I remember the exact moment that I truly began to understand the appeal of hiking.

It was about two years ago. I had just moved from Stockton to Calaveras County to get closer to the newspaper where I worked.

If you’ve ever been to Calaveras County, you know that there are essentially three ways to fill your weekend: eating (if you happen to get to a restaurant before 9 p.m.), gold rush museums or hiking. I figured I’d give the latter a shake.

A coworker recommended I download a trail app for my smartphone. I did, then I packed a satchel bag with water bottles, laced up a pair of worn-out Nikes, and hopped in my car to find a nice place to test out this whole hiking idea.

I settled on Natural Bridges Trail, an intermediate two-mile hike that wraps around a hillside and leads into a river cave. Based on the pictures I had seen, I figured I’d at least get a cool Instagram photo out of it.

At this point I should mention that I was never a big hiker. In fact, I was never a big walker. When I was younger, my dad would drag me out of our Oakland home every Wednesday afternoon to walk various trails and pathways across the city, most frequently the 3.1-mile Lake Merritt loop.

To him, it was paradise. But as a stubborn and competitive 8-year-old, the trail felt endless and the entire effort quickly grew tiresome and pointless. Unlike the baseball games that I grew up playing, there was no way to win at hiking.

So imagine my surprise when, almost 17 years later, I found myself taking in the sun-kissed foliage and glistening riverbeds at Natural Bridges. I finally began to understand what my father took away from his weekly walks.

It wasn’t about getting from point A to point C. It was all about reveling in the journey and taking in the scenery. It also helps that by the end of the hike my body felt like it had been run through the ringer (in retrospect, I should have started with an easier trail). I got my workout in, and felt like I accomplished something.

That’s the beauty of hiking. You take it at your own pace and find the right incline or grade to fit your skill level. Each trip is its own workout, sprinkled with a perfect amount of adventure and intrigue. If you’re feeling competitive, you can try to beat your personal best.

Now my girlfriend and I try our best to take a healthy hike at least once a week. We pick different parts of the city, slap a leash on the dog, and set out to find something that we’ve never seen before. It’s become a cherished routine of ours. I can point back to that afternoon in Calaveras County as the hike that started it all.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2019