In July of 2022, I came to the mountains and hiked these trails solo, which my soul needed. It was the first time in my adult life that I muted the expectations of everyone else and started to listen to what my needs and expectations were. How can I show up as the best version of myself? How can I be the best parent to my son AS WE see it? How can I be there for my friends and family and maintain my authenticity? How can I be more productive and present at my job? I learned this by spending hours and hours alone in the wilderness.

As I spent time alone, I also ran into other people spending time alone. Whether it was chatting it up on the trail or spending our evenings pulled in together at the dining room table at Tmax-n-Topos hostel, here we were. Seekers of silence. Seekers of truth. Each of us was driven by a deep need deep in our souls. Each of us chancing different goals in the hills. Some high, some low. Some were chasing numbers, some were chasing silence, some were chasing comradery, and some were processing grief. Whatever these mountains were doing for people, I just knew I wanted to be a part of it.

For me, trauma brought me to the mountains. By the time I finally stopped staring at the mountains for years and started hiking them, that was when it clicked. I wasn’t able to be found because there was no service. I let people know where I was going and when to be worried if they hadn’t heard anything, but outside of that, it was my time. Something about the mountain air, the challenge of the climb, the hours spent alone or quiet with a friend. I wasn’t bothered by all the chatter of the outside world. Trail by trail, I would leave expectations that others (or I thought that others) had of me. Every mile I hiked, years I shed of living my life for others.

As I gained a hiking partner (Rochelle, you are the BEST), it brought a new lesson. There is nothing like a hiking partner. They see you at your best. They see you at your worst. Usually, when you are at your worst, they still have hours and hours left to spend with you to get out of the woods and whatever nasty emotional state you have gotten into. Then you come trekking out of the wilderness and see your car and start crying, then everything is better! There is nowhere to go! When you come into challenging things, you must stick together and find a resolution. As someone with diagnosed complex PTSD, this is REALLY, REALLY hard because you can’t just cut and go! You have to stick in there and work through it. It’s been the most beautiful lesson of partnership and self-compassion.

I present as a usually happy and positive person all my life. That is authentic. That is who I am deep down in my soul. However, there are moments on trial (and in life) when cranky Jess comes out. I have made friends and kept them through these experiences, which is absolutely amazing to me. But that is also a part of the process and why I hold these people closer to me. There are tears, moments of fear and processing through, hanger moments, and times when you are tired, hot, cold, dehydrated, and the only way to process through it is to become a toddler. (I am just speaking for myself. 🤣) In general, the people whom I have adopted in the forest can handle it, and in return, I can handle it when their toddler comes out to play. It’s the gift of giving!

A lot of things stopped me in my past from getting out there. From feeling like I had to try to keep up with others, feeling like I wasn’t thin enough or athletic enough to be out there, being a solo hiker as a woman, trekking trails in the dark, not having the training to do any of this. For years, I let one or all of these things rule me. I thought I wasn’t the right body to attempt these things. I am not fast enough to keep up with others. It’s dangerous to go out alone. Once I dropped all of these false beliefs, my world started changing. I gained confidence in my body because it is strong and capable. I gained confidence in my ability to problem solve and work through things I didn’t think I could do. I learned to become vulnerable and know it was safe to say when I was struggling or scared and that the person who was with me would have compassion and empathy. I learned to be safe out there as a woman and that I could protect myself.

I have to give great gratitude for the struggles that led me to the mountains. Thank you to my friend Jen who didn’t give up for TWO YEARS asking me to go hike. Thank you to Tmax-n-Topos for being a safe second home and welcoming me with open arms in those walls to rest, learn, and meet others adventuring out. Thank you to Rochelle for being my hiking partner, spending countless hours out there in the wilderness, and trusting me with some crazy ideas at times. Thank you to Patty for letting me latch on to your 46er finish, then from there growing a friendship that spans years now. Thank you to everyone I have crossed on the trail or at the hostel who has shared your story with me and allowed me to learn how to adjust to make things work for me. Thank you to the mountains for being my safe space. Taking my tears, joys, sorrows, victories,, turn arounds, and always being there for me to come back to. The list goes on. I express gratitude for this and much more every single day.