When you begin participating in a sport or activity, it’s common to look at others and compare yourself to them. However, it’s important to remember that you are not like anyone else. You don’t have the same level of ability, training, experience, strength, endurance, and many other factors. If you start comparing yourself to others, you will lose the enjoyment of the experience itself.

I started hiking in 2022 because a dear friend encouraged me to. She saw something inside of me that was yearning to be in the mountains, and she was right. I discovered a healing power in the mountains that my soul desperately needed.

When I first started, it was hard not to compare myself to others. That actually caused me to want to do more solo hiking. It took the comparison game out. As I trekked along mile by mile, I gained a huge amount of self-compassion. My body had never been through physical activity of this sort.

Throughout this process, I learn more and more about myself. I wasn’t used to gaining elevation and the strains of hours of hiking. I learned that I find it easier to hike up steep inclines and take more gradual paths down. I learned when my body needed food or when I was dehydrated. I learned that Jessica turns cranky at certain points, and it’s helpful to have my favorite candy to eat when I need calories and don’t want to eat because I’m too tired, cold, or hot.

After close to two years of consistent hiking and over 250+ hikes, I have learned a lot about myself. First, I am a slow hiker. I have asthma and COPD. When I gain elevation, it wipes my lungs out, so I take more frequent stops. I used to get upset about that. Now, I embrace it. It forces me to look around and appreciate where I am. I am more in tune with my body now than I ever have been. When I am hiking with friends who are faster than I am, they know to wait for me when we come to technical parts. They are patient and gracious. I also have a fear of heights and climbing rock exposures. So, I take my time. I carry a rope with me because sometimes, I will take my bag off to climb a technical spot and then pull it up when I’m settled at a safe spot.

Let’s talk body comparison because, love it or hate it, it’s out there. The thought is that only athletes, thin, athletic people, run the mountains. Yes, there is a lot of that. But that doesn’t mean anyone outside of that doesn’t belong there. My body is larger and it’s also strong. I’m sure it contributes to my speed being slower! I might be larger and slower, but I will get there. I have been on trial multiple times and been treated differently because I don’t fit in with the majority. I don’t let that stop me, and you shouldn’t let that stop you, either. We each have a different journey, and I’m not going to let that stop me from kicking butt out there. Nor will I let it keep me from getting out there because of what people think. So if you are struggling in your mind about how you THINK you should look, and it’s stopping you from getting out there, just stop now. You deserve to be out there just like everyone else.

I became an NYS Hiking Guide in September 2023. I decided that I would emphasize my strengths and help others who felt like they couldn’t do something or like they didn’t belong in the wilderness like I previously felt. EVERY BODY deserves to be out there. It doesn’t matter your gender, size, shape, age, athletic ability. There are literally trails for everyone. My guide company focuses on beginner and slower hikers. I did this first because that is what I am, and second, if you reach out to guide companies, a lot of them do not want to cater to a slower hiker. That stinks. That’s great for people who have a faster pace and want to go run mountains! Perfect! But most people don’t have the capability to do that when they first start, or ever, AND that’s great, too! If you are interested in going for a hike with me, feel free to follow me at Slow to Climax. (Yes, I did! 😉)

If you are contemplating whether you should get out there, I hope you do. The mountains are a sacred space and provide many growth opportunities mentally, physically, and spiritually. If you are hesitant to get out there, let me know. If you want to go by yourself, I’m happy to give you some suggestions on where to get started rather than climbing too big a mountain and never wanting to hike again.

Happy trails! I look forward to seeing you out there!