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Weather the North Carolina Winter with a Midweek Hiking Escape

By Joe Miller | December 15, 2016 | Explore NC

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^Photo by @ramirez35_

Here’s the good news: on Thursday of this week, we start getting more daylight in the afternoon.

The not quite-as-good-news: it’s only a minute more.

On Wednesday, as it had been for the previous 15 days, official sunset was 5:01 p.m. On Tuesday, it was 5:02 p.m. Encouraging for those of us who miss our midweek adventures during the dark winter months, but a mere bone in our quest for more adventure. In fact, for most of us who don’t get off work until 5 or so, we won’t have enough afternoon daylight to do much. Daylight Saving Time kicks in on March 12 (and the sun sets at a workable 7:19 p.m.).

hiking escape
Photo: @gmdmartino

What to do in the meantime? Should we simply be content with outdoor adventure relegated to the weekend?

We should not. And we needn’t be, not when we’ve got 10 perfectly good hours of daylight to play with every day — daylight you can take advantage of by simply allowing yourself to take at least one hour midday during the work week for an outdoor escape.

Now, you may be wondering how you could possibly spare an hour during your busy workday. Ponder this: how are you typically feeling come noon? Sluggish, like you need a nap. Instead, you go out for lunch, after which you feel even more in need of curling up under your desk. How much do you get done when that’s the case? 

The perfect antidote to fatigue, according to research cited by, is exercise.

“More than 90% of the studies showed the same thing,” researcher Patrick O’Connor tells WebMD. “Sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise. It’s a very consistent effect.”

Exercise in the outdoors carries with it an extra boost of energy: the positive effects of being outdoors are well documented, from improving your outlook (I’ll never get everything done to If I do this and this and this … I might just make it), to improving focus (Squirrel!).

Plus, an outdoor adventure may be closer than you think. Find out by calling up Google Maps and searching for green spots — literal green spots — near where you work. Some may be golf courses or other off-limit spots, but many will be parks and natural areas that you can explore. I managed to identify four hiking escapes within 5 minutes of my Durham office. These include Hollow Rock Nature Park, Sandy Creek Park, Duke’s Al Buehler Cross-Country Trail, and a half dozen access points to Duke Forest. Ten minutes of driving (out and back) gives me 50 minutes to lose myself in these embedded urban escapes.

Be flexible about your escape needs, molding them to fit what’s available. If it’s a greenway of consistent, reliable surface you may want an aerobic speed hike. If it’s a natural area with little in the way of established trails, your escape might be more of a meditative event. A park with a playground? Make it an escape back to childhood — keeping in mind you aren’t as limber as you once were!

If you can carve out a hiking escape more than once a week, all the better. But if it is only once, that mid-week bridge can be huge in helping you weather, both mentally and physically, a time of year that can challenge us in many ways.