March 1, 2022

The last few years have been nothing less than challenging. I am sure many of you reading this right now would agree, for relatable reasons or for reasons of your own. Hiking has been the one constant that has pulled me through the course of these challenging times and has brought me back to the light. 

Life is quite complicated, messy, emotional, gut-wrenching, beautiful, delightful, awesome, amazing, inspiring… all on its own timeline and out of our control. Life, as they say, is a rollercoaster. We all know it is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, sadness and happiness, wins and losses, changes and redirections, etc. However, I do believe there are some of life’s happenings that you can never be fully prepared for even if you are given all the time in the world or are sent all the warning signs. 

In 2020 I found myself riding a low on the rollercoaster of life. An overwhelming feeling of loss had struck me and surrounded me in different ways. I lost two close family members to death in a short time, I lost close relationships, and I lost the normalcies of life when the pandemic set in. In addition, the pandemic brought new unknowns and losses within my professional career as a nurse. My grieving process at the time felt comparable to drowning. Just as I was about to reach the surface for a breath of fresh air (finish grieving one loss), I’d struggle once more and fall back underwater (another loss would occur). It felt like a never-ending cycle and for awhile I was not sure how I would make it through. 

- Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania 

The outdoors have been my happy place ever since I was a young girl. I credit my parents for making me an active person. They would push me out the back door to go play outside after I had been cooped up at school or in the house all day. I fondly remember staying outside until dusk fell and I’d hear my mom yell, “Dinner is ready!” During that time, I would find myself climbing trees, running through trails of the forest, discovering nests where birds had just hatched, looking for rabbit holes with new little bunnies inside of them, or watching the river as it flowed. I was fascinated with everything in nature, from the sights to the sounds, to the living things, to the spontaneous adventures I created for myself. Nature felt magical to me and the possibilities felt endless.

Flash forward to 2020, I found myself needing to find that magic again. No, I had not been away from the outdoors for all these years. I had hiked here and there over this time in-between, but I had not fully immersed myself into nature since I was kid. I had to believe that the fulfilling feelings it leaves one with, the excitement it brings, the amazing connections that occur, and the endless possibilities it offers still existed in the outdoors just as they did when I was a kid.


Towards the end of that year, I accepted a job in Washington state. With the coronavirus isolating everyone from gathering, going outside was one of the only things we could do. I knew the state had a lot to offer with its possibilities for outdoor adventures. I had visited Washington a few years back and had fell in love with its beautiful scenery. And yes, still beautiful even on its rainy days (relatable to life I suppose). Although I was still hurting, I knew it would be the place where my healing journey would begin.

- Fremont Lookout in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

As soon as my feet landed on that new ground, I found myself running through the trails of the forest again and seeking out awesome adventures. I’d go on All Trails, find a trail that matched my level of hiking at the time, and get going. Trust me though, there were many days in the beginning when I felt I didn’t have the energy to get going. I was worn down mentally and doubted getting myself up a mountain. But I also knew if I just got myself out the door, I’d find a way to do it. I had to find a way to do it.

I brought my grief and my worries to the hiking trails. Hiking wasn’t a distraction from what I was going through, but instead it was the way through. Nature allowed me space to think, space to talk about what was on my mind (even if it was to myself), and a space for growth. Once I started getting out there more, I realized how much my physical strength and mental strength capacities were changing. I would find my way to the summit, find my way to conquering challenging trails, and find the answers to questions I had without even asking for them. 

I was hiking and healing.

During this time period, there was also a day I stumbled across an Instagram account that had me intrigued. Outdoor Journal Tour was the account and they were promoting their #wehiketoheal challenge for the month of May. I read more into what it was about and decided to join the challenge. A very fitting one for me. Although the challenge involved some friendly competition with others, it’s main focus was on healing yourself and being better than the day you were before. The real competition was yourself. I knew if I set a goal for myself for hiking, I’d also move mountains with my healing process. One part of the challenge was logging your mindful minutes in nature to keep track of your total for the month. This held me accountable for myself. Other parts of it were completing mindful worksheets each week and having the opportunity to attend and participate in virtual workouts/classes/discussions. Just an overall work of art on one’s inner-self. As I pushed myself that month to hike more miles and climb more elevation, it was also inspiring and humbling to know how many other women were doing the same. Despite doing a lot of solo hiking, in another perspective, I was not alone in what I was actually doing. 

As the saying goes,

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

The challenge was full of like-minded women who were seeking a chance to start over again. To feel okay again. To overcome the cards life had handed them. 

My totals for that month added up to 50 miles and a little over 20,000 feet of elevation gain. 

More hiking than I had ever done before. 

Here’s more information about ODJT and #wehiketoheal

I’d also like to mention now that Women Who Explore has collaborated with Outdoor Journal Tour this year for an event during #wehiketoheal2022! 

    1. You should join the #wehiketoheal2022 challenge, even if you don’t have something to heal from at the time. 
    2. You should sign up for the collaborated event! May 28- May 30th! (Info below)
    3. Women are strong badass human beings and we will always overcome our struggles, especially when we have each other and the outdoors to lean on!

- from Women Who Explore 

My last hike of that month left me with an overwhelming feeling again, but this time, it was of gratitude. 

Below is the last picture I captured before exiting the forest…

    And there it was… the moment I knew I had let the light back in. 

    Hiking has allowed me to change my perspective on myself and my outlook on life. I have learned so much about myself along the way. It has given me that silver lining. For without the journey to the top, the view and change of perspective would never happen. The journey was never meant to be easy, but I can see now it will always be worth it. As I continue to constantly change, grow, and heal, it’s nice to know that nature will always be there for me and is always ready to welcome me back.

    Hiking has become my “it” factor. 

    That sip of a summit beer has never tasted better. 

    And finally, I can say I’ve found that breath of fresh air again. 

- Camp Muir (base camp to Mount Rainier summit), Washington 

Written by: Kayla Bet 

About the Author Koa Hughes

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