This is a post written by My Trail—an Elephant partner. We’re honored to work with anyone who is this dedicated to helping us get outside and reconnect with nature, in all seasons. ~ Ed.
I awake before the sun; the house, still and quiet. My Saturday morning routine is calm and effortless.
Today, I know I desperately need this space—this time to breathe, to recharge, to rediscover my center. I need to release myself from my obligations at work and my obligations to my family. I need to reconnect with my beating heart, with the beating heart of nature.
I need to leave these burdens on the trail.
Just over a year ago, when my husband was deployed in Kuwait, I started hiking every Saturday morning. It was his idea, actually. Two months into his absence, I was a mess. Not having my co-pilot, my partner, was challenging, especially with two tumultuous teenagers.
On a late-night Skype call, he suggested I find a way to get out of the house and get some peace, to invest something back into myself. I thought of a dozen reasons I couldn’t; the many ways I felt the world would burn to the ground in my absence. He just looked at me through the grainy camera image and told me I had to do it.
That’s where it began, my love affair with hiking.
First, in a pair of cheap sneakers with a bottle of water picked up from the gas station and my son’s old Hulk backpack hung awkwardly from one shoulder. I’d only go a couple miles when I started, unsure of myself, feeling awkward on my own feet. But soon, I found myself hours in, pushing myself to go farther, to discover new bends around familiar trails. Instead of turning back, I’d invite myself forward, map in hand, to discover new, secret places. It was my time to just be. To feel free from obligation. With each new experience came confidence and, more importantly, peace.
What started as a forced habit, is now a necessary ritual.
I pull on the layers needed to keep me warm and dry in Colorado’s fickle fall weather: a base layer, hiking pants, a lighter jacket. I learned the hard way not to go out in my heavy winter gear, after hitting my third mile on the Intemann Trail. I’d let the temperature guide my wardrobe choices and after the initial climb, I was somehow sweating and cold, with no relief in sight, unless I wanted to traipse about in the icy air clad only in a sports bra and heavy jeans. I had to leave my hike early. I was extremely disappointed in myself and miserable all the way back to the car.
A week after that disaster, I came home to a package on the porch. My husband had gone online from his station in Kuwait and picked out new gear for me. “I’d like to come home to you in one working piece,” he wrote in the gift memo. “Here’s some new stuff to make sure that happens. Happy trails!”
The ritual of dressing for my hike is nearly as comforting as the exercise. Through it, I prepare my body for the work ahead—and the solace I know I will find in it. I pack light: snacks, a journal, a camera, water, an umbrella, and an extra shirt, in case it’s cooler higher in the mountains. The Hulk backpack has been retired long ago in favor of a more efficient companion, a real hiker’s pack that can size up or down, depending on where I’m going.
A short hike for me used to be a couple of miles. Now, I rise earlier, go further, and am able to spend hours on the trail in comfort. Later, there will be basketball games to attend and chores to be done.
But for now, this is my time.
After kissing my sleeping husband (finally home for a while), I set out for the trailhead. Today it’s Section 16, a route I’ve grown to love for its simplicity and its beauty. It’s familiar to me, but there are always new sights to be seen. Today, I hope to capture the last remnants of fall’s color before it begins to snow. I check my pack and my water and step onto the trail.
It’s quiet as the sun rises. The initial climb is steep and I pick my footing carefully to avoid areas where summer rains have turned the trail into a stream bed. It’s not long before I’ve broken a sweat, despite the 30-degree air. I pause in the sun, to take off my coat, stuff it in my pack and marvel at the panorama that has unfolded below me in the brightening daylight.
I move on, each step lightening my heart, carrying me forward to deeper sense of serenity. With every switchback, every boulder, every turn, I fill this well that will become my private energy reserve when dozens of emails and meetings greet me on Monday morning.
In the hours that follow, I lose myself in nature. The sounds of fallen leaves crunching beneath my feet. The birds that start from the trees I pass. A fox I surprise from her place in the bushes. The air warms, but I am comfortable in my favorite long-sleeved tee, sweat cooling on my brow. I climb until I find my favorite spot, a boulder that overlooks the city and the sun climbing higher in the sky. This is my place, where I ball up my coat, lay back and journal away the troubles that weigh me down.
I return to my start, with the walls I built during the week melted away. With a new gratitude for myself, and for my family. With an open heart, ready to give again.
When I first took that first step on the trail more than a year ago, I didn’t know I was embarking upon a recurring journey to find myself over and over again through the adventure of unknown trails and the quiet solitude of contemplation.
These are the moments I cherish in my hectic life—these little snapshots of peace in a busy world. They help me feel like I am part of something greater than myself. Like I am simultaneously small and large, important and insignificant. They replenish my spirit and give me strength to be the woman I want to be for my family and friends.
This is my time, my journey, my restoration.
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren