I get asked all the time, “Why do you hike?” or “What made you start hiking so much?”
The short answer is, why wouldn’t you hike? Or, why isn’t everyone else hiking so much?! There’s so much to see, so many places to go and experiences to be had.
The longer answer is, because I NEED to.
I need to because, my marriage to my high school sweetheart imploded.
I need to because, after more than two decades together, I was alone with two small children, against my will and against what I believed were my best efforts.
I need to because, I was filled with a level of rage, anger, and sadness that I had never known.
I need to because, I lost 30 pounds in a span of 3 weeks just a few short months after giving birth to my second child.
I need to because, I had no appetite and felt like I was on the verge of throwing up all of the time.
I need to because, I’m a control freak who lost all control of the life I worked so hard to create.
I’m a successful A-Type personality. I wasn’t used to failure, and this was such an EPIC failure. One that I had never imagined possible. One that profoundly impacted me and everyone I loved most in the world. The weight of knowing that this failure would ultimately shape who my children would become was an almost unbearable weight (and still is).
A few years before everything collapsed, camping had become a commonplace activity in our household. We had gotten a camper van and suddenly found ourselves addicted to it. We started out just doing overnights. The trepidation we had about doing a whole 2 night stay now seems so silly. Once we mastered a 2 night camping trip, we then started camping at least 2 weekends a month. Fast forward just a few short years and we went on a 10 day, 1000+ mile camping trip with our 7 year old son when I was 8 months pregnant and then another one when our new baby was just 3 month old. Hiking had always been intertwined with our camping adventures. It was the one activity that we could all share in together. No electronics distracting us. There was nothing to do but look around at the beauty of the landscape and be together, just us.
When he left, our daughter was only 5 months old. Our son was at school and I remember melting to the kitchen floor. I was holding her and sobbing as the front door closed. She just stared at me and with her dimpled uncoordinated hands wiped at my face. On more occasions than I care to recall, I could hear myself yelling at my 7 year old son over the smallest things. It was like an out of body experience. I knew it wasn’t right, or necessary, but couldn’t seem to stop myself. Anger had such a grip on me. We spent a year in limbo with a few unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation…including another week long camping and hiking trip. I knew nature could heal, and I was hoping it would work it’s magic on us. It failed. We failed, again.
The need to find something, to change something about our lives for the better, was calling me, I just didn’t know how or what. I’m very influenced by powerful words. They speak to my heart and after a year in limbo I saw two quotes that moved me deeply: “You deserve what you accept.” And “You never have to convince someone to be someplace they want to be.” Shortly after these words wrapped around my soul, I received a tag on social media by my sister-in-law. She wanted me to join in on a project called the 52 Hike Challenge…a personal commitment to hike 52x in 52 weeks. I now knew how to make that positive change in our lives.
I had always been the organizer of the family, not the entertainment director. As with everything else, that had now changed too. So my A-Type personality kicked in and I started researching where to go, where to stay, what to see. I had no idea that there were countless hikes less than a 2 hour drive away. In February 2015, I strapped my now 18 month old on my back, and the three of us went hiking. Sometimes it was just a mile, sometimes it was 7. With each hike, she progressively got heavier and I progressively felt lighter. I could literally feel chunks of anger, resentment, and fear, fall off of me with each hike. I felt stronger and more capable. I could breathe deeper. I could quiet the noise in my head.
There’s still part of me that feels like this can’t be real, and I still feel the heavy weight of our failure, especially as it relates to our children. So they are my two biggest reasons I need to hike. It makes me feel more connected to them. When we’re out on the trail, I’m not asking them to “hold on” while I put one more load of laundry on, or do the dishes, or finish some other household task…I’m just there, with them. Actively present in their lives and listening…to the sounds in the bushes, to the birds overhead, to their laughter, to their banter, to my heart. I’m there watching them build an ever deepening bond and becoming friends.
My son is a talker like me and out on the trail I can focus more clearly on what he’s asking me. Sometimes the questions are serious, deep and hard to answer. I do my best to answer as honestly and gently as I can. The hiking has helped him too, because now the questions more often are focused on one of his crazy hypotheticals like…would I rather face 10 chicken sized zombies, or 1 human sized zombie chicken. (I said the 10 chicken sized zombies if you’re wondering). I know all of the clichés are true…each day they get older, more independent and in a blink of an eye, they won’t be little anymore. The weight of these truths, of these clichés, ground me. I’ve already learned the hard way, I can’t kiss all of the boo-boos away and I can’t control everything.
I set out on this hiking challenge to be an example for my son. To show him that no matter what life throws at you, it’s how you react that matters. To show him that you have to keep moving…putting one foot in front of the other…even when it feels like you’re walking through molasses. Now, every weekend, every vacation, is centered on where we’ll go hiking. My kids expect it like clockwork. It has become our new north star in this sea we’re navigating. We’ll be driving somewhere and my little one will say, “Mommy, me see mountains! Hiking time?!” My son likes to go through my IG account with me as I show him all of the photos from the fellow hikers I now follow. It seems like every day we’re adding a new country or state to the list of places we need to go. He’s learned through their photos and from our adventures, that you just never know what’s around the corner or off that dirt road. He knows that there are hidden gems everywhere. He’s learning to set long term goals and accomplish them.
During one of our hiking conversations, we talked about what we’d do after the 52 Hike Challenge is complete, what new goal would we set for ourselves. His first questions was, “Can’t we just keep hiking?!” Yes, that’s a given, but we need a new goal. Miles? Certain number of National Parks? Climbing peaks? He laughed at me and said “Whoa mom. Slow down!” Not long after that conversation, we did bag our first peak. It wasn’t huge (4th highest in OC, 4,500 in elevation and 5.5 miles round trip) but it was another goal accomplished. He started that hike complaining…it was too steep, too cold, too windy, steadfast in his belief that he couldn’t do it. I reminded him it’s just walking…putting one foot in front of the other. He ended up beating me to the summit, beaming from ear to ear, so proud of his accomplishment…and rightly so!
In December, we completed our 52 Hike Challenge, 1 month ahead of schedule. We signed up to do it again and added their Adventure Series to our list of challenges. Hiking has provided me an outlet to heal. Don’t get me wrong…It still hurts, but I’m no longer consumed by the anger and sadness. I’ve learned to put one foot in front of the other and I’m looking forward to all the adventures we’ll have together. The newest quote that speaks to my soul is, “Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.”
You can follow along on Courtney & her hiking adventures at @Need2hike on instagram