Over the past several years, I’ve changed my tune about hiking…pretty drastically.
I want to be transparent here, because it can be easy to create this image of ourselves on the internet. As much as I’d love to feed into this profile of a woman who chases adventure and lives the Colorado lifestyle and totally loves hiking and the great outdoors and is truly living life to the fullest, it’s just not a complete and truthful image of who I am and who I’ve been.
I used to hate hiking. Absolutely detest it. For most of my life, probably, up until pretty recently.
In an unexpected way, this transformation, and every step along the way, has affected not only myself, but also my marriage.
The Earliest Days
When we lived in Iowa, my family would take an annual road trip to Estes Park, Colorado. This is inevitably how my parents fell in love with the state, and a huge motivating factor for our cross-country move several years later.
During our vacations, hiking was a treat, but I remember being resistant to walking. As a kid, it wasn’t my jam. I was carried a lot, and I think that translates into my attitude later on, too.
Once we moved to Colorado, hiking became a more permanent part of our lives. I used to be that kid that dreaded waking up early and hitting the trails. Sure, it was beautiful, but I had other things I wanted to do more. I couldn’t appreciate it and I was also scared of seeing a mountain lion or bear, which led to a hyper-anxious atmosphere on the trail.
When I look back, I regret all the times I skipped out on my parents, especially in high school. Overall, I think I was a pretty easy-going teenager, but my crappy attitude definitely popped out when it came to those hiking adventures I snubbed.
Once I grew up, I had a great appreciation for the beauty that came from hiking. But I still didn’t want to do it.
Now, it came down to being in the right shape. Hiking was a lot of work for me, and I didn’t think it was fun to struggle to breathe and feel like I was the slow-poke of the group. To me, the effort made the activity torture.
Enter: the boy.
Chad grew up in a family of hikers. Avid, structured hikers. That’s what they did and how they vacationed and what they chose to do in nearly all of their free time: they get up early (way too early for my liking), each have their packs filled, food made, out the door and on a trail of their choosing with no exceptions.
Once there, they go. They go hard, and I’ve been left behind in the dust before. I’ll be honest, I’ve never felt more insecure about myself than when I’m struggling to breathe and my boyfriend (now hubs) is half a mile ahead. In these cases, I’ve felt out of my element, like a wimp, and as though I didn’t quite fit in with this approach. To this day, it still stresses me out.
This was hard for someone like me, who was 100% not into hiking, but it seemed like the only thing Chad was available to do, especially in the summer and on the weekends.
This was a thing between us for a long time.
Because I felt so uncomfortable, and also because this approach bled into Chad’s way of hiking on our own, I simply never wanted to go. I would sit out, skip, or just say no. On the few occasions I did tag along, I resented everyone and everything and not even the incredible views or refreshingly cold drink at the end made it feel worth it.
For the record: this type of all-in style is very effective for some people and really great for them. I am not knocking it! It’s just 100% not for me, and it’s important to understand and validate your own feelings and comfort level and not always try to conform to other people’s values, whether it’s hiking or travel or parenting or any other kind of dynamic.
I also understand that it might seem really silly that an issue in a relationship could ever be, I don’t like your hiking style. That seems ridiculous. If you break it down to the concept, though, it makes a little more sense on how it can impact not just me, but him as well: I didn’t ever want to participate in my partner’s favorite activity. I always had an excuse not to. I didn’t want to do something that meant quite a lot to him.
It took a long time to get to a happy medium, for both of us.
Here and Now
Slowly but surely, I’ve gotten to a place where I like hiking. I enjoy it, look forward to it, and have gotten better at it.
To get to this point, I had to say no, a lot.
Before I started saying yes, I had to make some adjustments and create a system that works for me and my partner, that’s all our own.
There’s been a lot of compromise; we’re okay with spur-of-the-moment trips (my kind of style), but will still leave the house at 5 a.m. to hike big-ticket items like the Maroon Bells (much more of Chad’s approach).
It’s taken a lot of casual hikes to get to the point where I want to do more intense ones. It’s a gradual climb to that stage, and I appreciate Chad’s patience. I have to communicate what I’m comfortable with and call him out if he wanders ahead or sets a pace I can’t deal with, and I’m better off for it.
Hiking will always be work for me. It’s hard. It’s my idea of type-two fun (the kind where it hurts but is somehow enjoyable). To me, fun is typically traveling and swimming at a beach and relaxing and binge-watching television and bowling and eating ice cream and catching a baseball game. I’m always reminding myself that, while not necessarily my idea of fun, it is still very much a good time and a great challenge.
Now, we have a dog. And while it’s a little more work to keep a puppy calm and teach him the ways of the trail, it’s also incredibly fun and rewarding. This has also turned over a new leaf in terms of my relationship with hiking and exploring.
Here’s the main takeaway, and the point of this reflection: enjoying nature and getting outside and hiking is a wonderful thing, but only if it’s on your terms. You have to really do things for yourself and in a way that works for you.
Also, even with your own individual growth, it often has an impact on your relationships. Though I’d like to say that my hiking evolution is all entirely my own, it was also influenced by the people in my life. Part of why I started to improve is because I wanted to be a better partner.
It was two-fold: something I wanted for myself, and also what I saw would benefit my relationship.
I can finally say, that after years and years of struggling hiking, that I actually kind of like it. I’ll always have issues with getting up early and with catching my breath on the trail and when Chad’s instinct is to wander off ahead of me. When it feels more like a structured task than a fun activity, I can’t help but wish I’d stayed home.
You can change, you can evolve, and you can make experiences your own.
I’m so glad that I was able to grow and adjust. Now, the outdoors feels much more accessible and freeing. Nature feels like a true place of serenity. I still have a ways to go before it feels “easy,” but at the moment, the hard work is part of the charm.
Cheers to a journey, and to growth that suits you.