Walking For Miles On Dirt
By Jessy Shouse, Girls Who Hike Colorado Ambassador
If I had a dollar for every time I get asked what my love affair with walking for miles on dirt is all about, I'd be rich. I often chuckle & think to myself, "What isn't it about?"
As a Colorado native I was blessed to grow up with The Rocky Mountains as my backyard playground. I have spent many of summers camping with family & friends. I have dabbled in mountain biking & skiing. I loved soaking in all that magnificence & wonder. As I grew up and became a busy young adult with many commitments I lost my connection with mother nature. I would not realize for almost a decade how much I missed being outdoors. I was so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that I did not stop. I neglected myself. I was not practicing good self care. I gained lots of weight. I lacked energy. Not good.
I don’t know why, all of sudden, somewhere around my 30th birthday something drew me to the mountains for a dose of nature. Out of nowhere, I wanted to go for a hike, for a walk on dirt. My son, two at the time, was with me while my husband was at work so it had to be short. We went to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike is about 2 miles round trip on a nice out and back trail. Once we were on the trail my bubby was so happy, so amazed at all that was around him. There was a sparkle in his eye like I had never seen before. He wanted to stop and touch every speck of dirt, every tree, every pinecone. He laughed when he saw little critters run across the trail. We stood and threw rocks and sticks in the river for what seemed like hours. He was overcome with complete joy and pure innocence. As I stood and watched him take in this new world, memories of my childhood replayed in my mind. That hike, that moment, was exactly what I needed. It was a slap in the face, a true wake up call to get back outdoors. I had quickly rediscovered what being in nature is all about, through the eyes of a two year old. I now spend as much time as possible on the trail. I am addicted. Frequent nature injections have become a crucial part of my life and a key part in keeping my sanity.
Do you ever notice how good you feel after you’ve spent some time outside? There are many studies that show spending time in nature helps to improve not only physical health, but mental health as well. Stress of the concrete jungle & daily hustle and bustle weighing you down? Need an attitude adjustment? Just want some “me” time? Want a killer leg workout? Seeking some quality family time? Take a hike. Seriously, go walk on dirt. Get some fresh air, some vitamin D therapy. Play in the soil. Put your feet in the water. Breathing in that crisp, clean mountain air & soaking up the sun causes a chemical reaction in the brain that produces higher levels of the “feel good hormone.” Hiking and spending time in nature is also proven to reduce stress & anxiety. Trust me on that one! Getting out and enjoying nature, being in the mountains can help you escape the pressures of life. It helps me sleep better, makes me feel better. Walking on dirt is very, very cathartic. Being up in those peaks takes away all my stress, all my worries. It is my solitude, my peace. The mountains are where I go to seek guidance & find clarity. Exploring in nature allows for a clear mind, a peaceful mind, a joyful mind.
Now, I’m not going to lie, hiking is not all sparkles and glitter, blue skies and sunshine. You’ll probably get blisters at some point. I’ve been taken down in the middle of the trail by a charlie horse so bad that you could see it traveling up and down my calf. Sometimes you have to battle mosquitoes and bugs so thick they fly up your nose and in your mouth. After one adventure I counted almost 15 bites. Yuck! Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate and you have to quickly seek shelter under a big boulder until the storm passes. I recently went on a winter hike where we encountered gusts of 65+ mph winds. That makes it hard to walk and sucks all your energy out with the force of a Dyson vacuum. I’ve been in some sticky situations. There have been many times when I have wanted to turn around, give up, throw in the towel. But I don’t. I can’t let the apprehension and fear stop me from reaching my goals. I keep challenging myself with tougher, longer adventures. You see, it’s all about perspective. All about the right mindset. Hiking is comparable to life in that you must continuously put one foot in front of the other. You must keep going, keep moving forward despite challenges and fear. Sometimes inclines are so steep & the air is so thin that I have to stop what seems like every ten steps to catch my breath. Legs and lungs burning from pure exhaustion. Sometimes you doubt yourself and think you have taken a wrong turn, sometimes you do take a wrong turn. It is in these moments when I often say to myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” “This is crazy, I am crazy!”
Then I look around at all that natural beauty, take a few deep breaths, remind myself of why I do this and push on. There is nothing better than the sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching your destination when you doubted yourself or had fear try and get in your way. Pushing through the tough times makes the amazing views at the top that much sweeter. It gives you a sense of confidence that is hard to describe. The feeling that you are on top of the world. It reminds you that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.
And that my friends, is what walking for miles on dirt is all about.