On hiking

The first rule about living in the Pacific Northwest is you have to make being an outdoors person your entire personality.

The second rule about living in the Pacific Northwest is you have to make being an outdoors person your entire personality.

Good news! After 15 years away and almost two years back, I’ve re-transitioned into an Oregonian: hiking has become my entire personality (for now/again).

A photo of me taking a photo of the view from the junction of three trails in Tillamook State Forest. The foreground is flat terrain of small rocks and dirt. In the background are trees lining mountains. Gray clouds hang low. I'm wearing dark hiking clothes and bright red daypack. My back is to the camera, and I have my iPhone in my hand, up to eye level. I'm taking a photo.
Elk Creek Trail, Elk Mountain Trail, and King’s Mountain Trail junction. Tillamook State Forest, Oregon. May 2022.

The first time I made hiking my personality was at the end of January 2020. My hip had been hurting for months—for almost two years, actually—and it had gotten bad enough that I cut back on lifting. I could no longer squat, and CrossFit, my primary sport at the time, is full of squatting. I needed something physical and intense to (temporarily) replace lifting. So I started hiking.

Prior to this, I’d gone on four hikes—ever, in my whole life. My ex and I had taken my kids on a short out-and-back in Shenandoah National Park for my birthday in 2015, which was a giant shit show of a day.

I drove off from the visitor’s center with my phone, which had my ID and my bank and credit cards stored in its case, on the roof of my car. It all ended up in the grass at a bend in the road and took us hours to find. We had to drive all the way back home—about two hours each direction—and pull up “Find My iPhone” on my Mac because my ex had an Android (red flag). I screenshot the map showing where my phone was, emailed it to my ex, and then we drove back out to Shenandoah with the screenshot map pulled up on her phone. Absolute chaos. Funny now. Beyond frustrating then.

I'm standing in rocks, leaves, and grass on the side of a bend in the road. I'm wearing black spandex shorts and a bright pink tank top. Around and behind me are trees. In one hand I'm holding up my phone, which had dropped off the roof of my car into the grass. With my other phone I'm giving a thumb's up, smiling, and raising my forehead. The sun is shining through the trees.

A few months later, my ex and I hiked White Oak Canyon to the Upper Falls, also in Shenandoah, for our anniversary. We hiked it again the following weekend, this time with my kids and their dad.

My kids and I pose for the camera. We're in the shallow part of a pool of water from a waterfall, which is behind us. One of my kids is kneeling on a log in the water, one is sitting on the log, and the other is standing, as am I.
Upper Falls, White Oak Canyon. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. July 2015.

I didn’t hike again for four years—until June 2019, two days after my two youngest kids moved in full-time with their dad after having lived full-time with me for their entire lives until that point (my oldest kiddo was already living full-time with her dad). I hiked Old Rag, another Shenandoah hike, alone. 

Those first three hikes weren’t really about anything. They were all done to fill the time, to get out of the house and do something different from whatever we normally did in those days.

Old Rag was different. The transition of the kids moving in with their dad hit me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. I knew the move was the right decision. Still, I felt so incredibly guilty and wrong for having asked for what I needed: help; time and space to start sorting through my shit (✨trauma✨). For being a mom whose kids didn’t live with her.

That hike was a spontaneous, emotional decision, and it was all about intensity. It was a way to alchemize the emotional pain, which I didn’t know how to allow myself to feel, into physical intensity and discomfort, which I absolutely knew how to feel—or at least, endure.

Old Rag is one of Virginia’s most dangerous and most difficult trails. In other words: it was the perfect starting point for me, an inexperienced and solo hiker. I went out early, alone, and “raced” it (my goal is always to beat the AllTrails “average time to complete” time), wearing regular ol’ gym shoes (RIP to those Reebok Nanos, which were my main hiking shoe in the beginning) and completely unaware (1) that there were stretches of scramble along the way, and (2) what scramble was—I’d never even heard that word outside the context of eggs.

I'm standing on a large boulder. Behind me are the Blue Ridge Mountains. The sky is blue with a few white clouds in the distance. I'm wearing bright pink shoes, socks with a tropical print on them, black shorts, a blue tank top, a grey and black hat, and sunglasses. I have on a black backpack. I'm grabbing onto its straps and smiling, facing the camera.
Old Rag. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. June 2019.

I started hiking again at the end of January 2020. I hiked alone almost every other weekend until COVID-19 shut the world down. In that short stretch of time, I got in a handful of solo hikes—some in Shenandoah, some in George Washington and Jefferson National Forest—and a few shorter “hikes” with my kids in places much closer to home—Great Falls Park and Prince William Forest Park

A close-up of me holding a map of Great Falls Park, a small notebook with a Great Falls Park stamp stamped on the page, and an instax photo of me leaning against a wooden fence, and the falls are behind me and the fence. I'm facing the camera and smiling.
Great Falls Park, Virginia. February 2020.

For my solo hikes, I sought out trails that were at least 10-ish miles, and rated “hard” on AllTrails. And then I hiked them as fast as I could. I started buying proper gear. I hiked in freezing temperatures and various forms of precip. I read books and blog posts about nature and trail journaling. I bought books and laminated tri-folds detailing the region’s flora and fauna. I watched videos on orienteering, broke out my “smart book” from basic training and studied the land nav sections. (It is so funny to me that this book, which is issued to soldiers at basic training, is rated and reviewed on Goodreads.)

A spread from my copy of TRADOC PAM 600-4, opened to pages teaching recruits how to identify major terrain features.

I planned to spend 2020 learning how to camp in the backcountry, and signed up for a guided, group trek in Nepal later in the year. I’d decided I was going to solo thru-hike the AT in 2021, and this was how I’d prepare. (Because of COVID-19, none of these things happened.)

I was hoping for the best with my hip, and planning for the worst. I was frustrated that I had to stop lifting for the time being, and devastated at the idea that I might have to give it up completely. I wasn’t ready to. I made the AT solo thru-hike plan just in case. I was still years away from learning I’m autistic, and understanding why physical intensity is something I seek; something I need. 

I’ve been hiking again lately—nine hikes total so far this year, at least once, sometimes twice, a week for the past five-ish weeks. Like last time, I’ve turned to hiking while rehabbing injuries that are keeping me from lifting, choosing trails that my body can handle, and that give me the intensity I’m after.

A photo of steep rocky terrain with green trees, moss, and other plants. I'm a tiny dot in the center of the photo, attempting to climb up the terrain as high as I can.
Elk Creek Trail, Elk Mountain Trail, and King’s Mountain Trail junction. Tillamook State Forest, Oregon. May 2022.

It’s been almost a year since my body has been healthy, which means it’s been almost a year since I’ve been able to train without significant modifications to my programming. I’ve been in physical therapy for various issues and injuries since June 2021, and I’m mid-way through a five-week stint working one-on-one with a gymnastics coach to improve my primary weaknesses and imbalances, and proprioception.

I’ve made a lot of progress with my DPTs and my coach, and I have a long way to go. Until then: hiking. And this blog is going to reflect that. So get in, chucklefuck. We’re going blogging about hiking.

A screenshot of the "get in loser, we're going shopping" meme template from Mean Girls. Three white girls are in a white convertible. One girl is in the backseat, two are in the front. The convertible's top is down. All three girls are looking toward the viewer with smug and expectant looks on their faces.

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