Hiking was something I expected to hate. I didn’t consider the outdoors to be a sanctuary, or even a place I wanted to spend large amounts of time.
That was until Mike, my husband, took me to Neahkahnie Mountain one rainy afternoon while we were living on the coast. He thought it would help me ease some of the anxiety and depression I had been grappling with. I went, trusting that he was right.
The foggy sky overhead was dripping, while pines and hemlocks arched and bowed overhead, deflecting the droplets.
Without saying much, I did my best to leave my thoughts behind and to keep pace with Mike and our dog, Phil Collins as we tracked up the damp trail.
At first, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong there.
It is funny how, as people, we tell ourselves certain stories, which make us feel either allowed or unworthy for certain pursuits and interests in life. Being “outdoorsy” wasn’t something I ever thought I was, or something I had previously told myself I was allowed to be.
Certain thoughts kept hitting me on repeat.
Why am I here?
Then, suddenly. Silence.
On one of the steeper inclines I started to breathe heavily. The deep inhales, expanding my lungs, as the slow breath out grazed my lips. I looked down, lifting one foot deliberately after the other, still intent on keeping up. The sound of my feet on the ground mixed in the air with my breath to create a soothing beat that quickly consumed my focus.
I relaxed into it and began moving at my own pace, while taking in my surroundings.
Hiking hasn’t always been the activity we know it as today. Before the Industrial Revolution, when the United States was still an agrarian society, being in nature was just part of life. Something people did because it was necessary. Whether tracking through the woods to find food, or clearing trees for a farm, the wilderness was something to conquer.
When city living became the norm, and especially as suburbs began popping up, over time, retreating into the wilderness became exactly that– a retreat. An escape from the mundane of the everyday, civilized new world.
Prior to moving to the rugged Oregon Coast, I had grown up in a suburb of Northern Utah where nature and outdoor recreation was definitely not part of my every day experience. I had been what a lot of people would likely describe as a girly girl.
Along the trail that day with Mike, hiking Neahkahnie, I allowed myself to slow down for the first time in a long time, and to my surprise I found something I had been missing. The birds were singing despite the rain, the wind rustled through the pines and dirt and dead leaves crunched under our weight as we moved along.
I was noticing the here and now. I was allowing myself to be present.
The sounds enveloped and soothed me. By the time we reached the top of the mountain, I was tired, yes, but also much calmer than I had been in days. Miles of coastline, familiar rock formations and crashing waves made up the view from where we sat to take a break.
Hiking allows me to find the moment again when the past and future start to overwhelm me.
Now, hiking, or just being outside somewhere remote and far away, is something I crave. It’s something I think a lot of us crave, especially when life gets hard. We can treat it, not as a permanent escape from reality, but as a refuge where we can go to clear our heads, center our hearts and return reinvigorated.