There are few times in my life when I feel more at peace than when I’m hiking: warm sun at my back, a cool breeze on my face, and ears attuned to the quiet sounds of nature all around me, with lungs and legs burning from the exertion of carrying me upwards at the tempo of my ragged breathing. Hiking is akin to meditation for me – a time when my mind slows down and I’m in tune with my body in ways I don’t often feel in my daily life.
I haven’t always felt this way in the great outdoors. As a kid, I was a reluctant hiker who much preferred to read a book, and by my early 20s, the time I spent in nature was mostly a byproduct of constant rock climbing trips with my future husband. That all changed the year I turned 30, with two kids under three years old and less sleep each night than most humans require to survive. The realization that I was struggling with postpartum depression came at the same time that I found out I was pre-diabetic, which finally spurred me to take action for both my physical and mental health. With a deep hatred for gyms and the added complication of a baby tagging along most days, I decided to exercise by heading outdoors and tackling the local trails.
Over the next year the combination of diet changes and frequent hiking significantly improved both my energy and mood, until one day I was excited to realize I had begun to feel like the old me again. I also got my blood sugar back down to “normal” range, news that came the same week we learned there was a surprise baby on the way! Thankfully, I entered this third foray into motherhood armed with the knowledge that hiking helps keep me sane and happy. I walked gentle trails to burn off stress when my pregnancy became high-risk at 20 weeks, then managed to avoid PPD and work towards healing the trauma of baby’s birth and the NICU stay with mellow hikes during my postpartum period (often with my tiny new bundle of baby strapped to my chest!).
I have dreams to one day tick off some famous hikes from my ever-growing bucket list. However, for now, as a mother to three young kids, I’m perfectly happy to continue honing my skills on the local peaks near our home. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from hiking, it’s that the joy comes from the journey to the top, and the view once you arrive is that much better because of the work you put into getting there.
Lauren Swan is a freelance writer, hobby hiker, and mother