When the wind is whispering through the trees and the views stretch for miles and the mountains reach up toward the sky – then I know I am but a small human in this beautiful world. When the path twists and turns and offers more than it could ever take away and brings me to unexpected places – then I know I am where I am meant to be. When I struggle to catch my breath from either the physical exertion or the breathtaking and expansive scenery laid out before my eyes and the amazement of this experience never begins to wear off – then I know I am whole.
Hiking in nature is my happy place. I’ve grown to appreciate the art of putting one foot in front of the other. But I haven’t always. In fact, during a tantrum during childhood, I once exclaimed (between sniffles) to my mother that, “I tan’t walk.” I am grateful this was not a defining moment in my life, as I would likely give up in anything I did, if it were. Instead, it’s just a line my family enjoys reliving at all possible moments.
My hiking adventures began in Valentine, Nebraska in flip flops, but I’ve since graduated to a proper hiking boot and relative attire. I’ve hiked deserts, mountains, forests, prairie, and even the rain forest. I’ve hiked in snow, 100+ degree heat, rain, and perfect conditions. The variety made possible by our passion to seek out beautiful places as we chose vacation destinations, places to live for just a little while, and areas to explore that were close to home.
When I’m out on a hike, I’ve realized the importance of observation. It’s not about reaching the final viewpoint or the end of the trail, but the details along the way. It’s in the obscure fungi growing on the forest floor and the way a chipmunk scurries across the rocks and the formation of the giant boulder overhead. It’s about the rare bird sightings (though I will always need to be told when these occur) and the places we choose to take a break, only to discover a native plant existing right there in front of us.
And while the mindfulness practice is an irreplaceable gift to hikers who are willing to receive it, one of my favorite parts about hiking is the connection and support with those you’re hiking with. This shared experience of unknown places or rare sightings or beautiful vistas everywhere you turn – that’s valuable, but so is the encouragement that takes place along the way. There have been times when Aric has had to push me to keep going or to climb up by him to see a new view. I treasure these moments because he’s pushing me to grow and to always be curious. I would ask for nothing else from a hiking companion, and I would ask for nothing else in my partner in life.
Today we embark on a new adventure. A landscape we’ve never seen and only dreamed of. Glacier National Park in Montana. For one week, we will, together with his parents and sister, stand in awe of glaciers and explore an entirely new land. And if we’re lucky, we’ll see bears… from a locked vehicle or from our cabin window or a tall observation tour, thousands of feet away from the cuddly things.
Get out, explore, and breathe in what nature has to offer. It’s there whether you notice it or not. And that’s the beautiful thing. That is exists, not for us, but along with us.