Walking the Long Trail to Happiness
By Whitney Jones, Girls Who Hike Florida Ambassador
I grew up on seven acres of land outside of Tallahassee, Florida, directly across from Florida's Apalachicola Forest. Along with my older brother and sister, we explored every inch of those seven acres. We had trails crisscrossing the woods all around the house and even a small spring that bubbled up from one of Florida's many underground aquifers. We'd climb trees, swim in the small spring, ride our bikes as fast as we could through the trails, and play with the snakes and lizards we'd find everywhere. We'd play in those woods until we were called in for dinner. It was an idyllic childhood.
Then as we grew older things changed. My brother, six years older than me, left for college, and my sister later moved in with my father up in Georgia. Through much of middle school and high school I was lefts to my own devices between getting home from school and my mom getting home from work. During those hours I could have been out playing in the woods, but I began spending more time inside in front of the television set or the computer. The years that really shape us into what we'll be as adults I spent focused on celebrities, cartoons, video games, and socializing.
It wasn't until I was well into my late twenties that I realized I was unhappy with how my life was progressing. I checked most of the boxes society says should be checked by then: Married (check); well paying and stable job (check); first house (check); dog and cat (check). No matter how many of those boxes were checked, the reality was I wasn't happy with myself. I was diagnosed with anxiety and had to be prescribed medication just to get me through the day. I had mild depressive episodes, but I refused to be medicated for that on top of the anxiety. My physical unfitness and unhappiness with my body also exacerbated these two diagnoses. Thank goodness for my husband who was there when I needed support the most.
One day, looking for a solution to my problems, I stumbled across Nerdfitness.com. One of the things that really stood out to me at Nerd Fitness was the philosophy of finding an activity that you love. If you don't love running, then try weight lifting. If you hate gyms, then try a workout at home or outside at the park. Just do SOMETHING to get active and stay active. Plus, their community of rebels are so supportive and amazing it's hard not to be motivated by their encouragement! So, in the effort to finally get my life back on track I joined a gym and started running. Long story short, I hate running and gyms. But I kept trying to find an activity that would keep me coming back for more.
Around this time I happened upon a Groupon for a stay at the Lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. My intention was for my husband and I to hike around the area, relax, and enjoy the local food. Unbeknownst to me, Amicalola Falls State Park is also where the Appalachian Trail Approach Trail begins. It was then that a light switch in my head flipped back on. The mountains, the beautiful trees, babbling streams, crashing waterfalls, and the sound of footfalls on the earth beneath my feet; this is what would always keep me coming back for more. It didn't matter that my quads were burning or that I was gasping for breath from hiking up mountains. I wanted to see what was around the next bend! That same feeling I had running around in the woods with my brother and sister as a kid bloomed strong in my heart during that vacation. Not only that, but my anxiety melted away when I was focused on putting one foot in front of the other and viewing the amazing scenery nature had to offer. Hiking became my therapy.
A lot of women (and men) often think that adventure can't be had if you're unhappy or unfit. That's just not true. When I hiked the trails at Amicalola Falls I was at my heaviest. Most people at the time would call me "fit," but that is based solely on my looks alone. I'm a small, slender person, but the truth is I could barely make it up one flight of stairs at my office building without losing my breath. Nerd Fitness showed me that I could have adventure in my life while working toward the physical fitness I'm looking for. It also helped me regain my confidence to start looking for a new, less stressful job (check), reaching out to other women in the hiking community to plan hikes (check), and then, apply for the Ambassadorship with Girls Who Hike (check). No matter who you are or where you are in your fitness journey, you can absolutely do anything you set your mind to. I never in a million years would have thought I'd be where I am today. I can't wait to see what comes around the next bend in my life.
As for my anxiety? I no longer need medication to manage it, I just need to go for long hikes in the woods and take a deep breaths of fresh forest air.