If you’re anything like me, then the thought of attending group hikes is a thing of nightmares. Lots of people, having to worry about keeping up, being on a schedule rather than taking your time or leaving whenever you want… This just did not sound like a good time to me. When I started my outdoor adventures, only a few months ago, I was in a very bad place mentally and emotionally. Until now I’ve had my boyfriend as my only companion, accompanying me on each and every outing. Over time, as I have slowly been chiseling my way out of my hardened, stone shell, I’ve started to feel the need for something slightly more. I joined several hiking groups on Facebook, particularly those that were local and women oriented, in hopes of partaking in hikes with new people. Though I was constantly admiring the pictures, and occasionally joining in a conversation, I just couldn’t bring myself to ever actually attend an event. I saw these images of the members in some amazing and beautiful places, and they all looked so happy together. I wanted to feel that joy, to make new friends whom I could adventure with! I would see a post for a meetup and for a slight second think that I maybe I could try to go, but for the most part I have found that they tend to be out of my skill level (or what I consider to be my skill level). I tried to post my own hike a few times, just to even get a single buddy, and yet the response I received was nonexistent. It seemed that nobody wanted to join the slow, out of shape hiker for an easy trail so I stopped trying.
My boyfriend grew very ill from his autoimmune disease, and shortly after he started recuperating he became injured due to a side effect of his mediation. My time was consumed with caring for him,not to mention he was my one and only hiking partner, so I stopped going out altogether. Though months later he no longer requires constant care, his body is in no shape to venture to the mountains and won’t be for some time. He encouraged me every time I would bring up a group hike I was contemplating, trying to ensure that I wouldn’t fall back into old habits. And every time, like clockwork, I would talk myself out of it for one reason or another. While it would seem appealing at first, the shininess would dull pretty quickly as my brain assaulted me with fear and came up with any and every reason why I shouldn’t go.
Taking the Plunge
One day I saw a post in the Mountain Chicks SoCal group for an event called Hike and Eat Pie, which was the day after the next and had a few slots that had opened up. It included a hike up to Stonewall Peak, followed by pie at Mom’s in Julian. The trail wasn’t too strenuous, and though there was “socializing” afterwards I figured a quick slice of pie would be doable. It wasn’t committing to an entire day, and I could leave after the hike if I wasn’t up to the gathering after. I clicked the button and signed up before I had the chance to second guess myself. Then, apparently running on some strange euphoria from this already out of character move, I decided to carpool with some of the other ladies, thus condemning myself to sticking the whole event out. I didn’t want the opportunity to escape early, for once I wanted to see it through to the end so I ripped the safety net out from under myself.
I thought about it nonstop all throughout the next day, my mind racing and insisting over and over that I could still back out. I prepared my gear and made sure everything was set, since I would have to be up early to meet my carpool. I didn’t want to worry myself with anything in the morning other than getting out the door. I went to bed still on the verge of panic before eventually settling into a restless sleep. When I awoke to my alarm the next morning I went through my routine in an almost robotic fashion. I just had to get through the motions and not let myself stop to think about anything else. As the time to leave drew closer, the knot in my stomach began to grow until I felt sick. I had to fight back the overwhelming urge to crawl back into bed, and take deep breaths to keep from crying. The short car ride over to the meeting spot was spent going back and forth between pumping myself up and telling myself that it wasn’t too late to cancel. This continued as I got my bag out of the back seat and walked up to the other gal that was waiting at our meeting spot. Then the moment came when Jeremy drove away and I was still there, about to hop into a car with 5 ladies whom I had never met before to spend a day in the mountains. My mind immediately and accusingly threw the words “What have you done?” at me. I just kept pushing it to the back of my mind, and as we started our journey on the road a new thought came to mind: “This won’t be so bad, maybe I really can do this.”
The girls that I was riding with were extremely friendly, and though they were already good friends they made sure to include myself and the one other newbie in their conversations. We all talked about our lives, we joked and laughed at the silly things that our early morning brains found entertaining. We made it to the parking lot of the campground at the foot of the trail, and were greeted with a group of maybe 10 or so more women who were ready to hike! Thankfully at this point everyone was there and we were able to start, giving my mind no chance to second guess myself anymore. I was there, we were heading for the trail, and it was all going to be okay. At the trail head we were met with a booth and a few friendly park rangers who were there as part of a children’s nature hike, but were more than happy to talk to our group of grown women.
We started up the trail, and I promptly took my position in the very back as to not allow them to see me struggling. I tried not to focus on how much slower I clearly was than the rest of the group.
There weren’t too many spots on the trail where you could see below or around to the other mountains, but this didn’t make it a boring hike by any means! It was shaded by trees during the morning so the sun hadn’t had a chance to dry up the morning dew, making the trail cool and slightly damp in some areas. With so many of my previous hikes having been in the desert or on unshaded trails, this was quite refreshing.
With so many of the other girls in the group being in far better shape than myself, and having far more experience, I was not at all surprised when I lost sight of them. And then I realized that this was perfectly okay. They weren’t going to leave without me, it was a well marked and maintained trail so I was in no danger of getting lost, and I no longer felt the burden of slowing anyone down but instead chose to focus on enjoying myself. There was another gal who, though more experienced than I, was still a “slow hiker” and she ended up falling back with me. We chatted about what trails we’ve done and she made some recommendations for me based on my skill level, and even offered to accompany me in the future. As we rounded the last corner and began to climb the stairs, we were welcomed by cheers from the rest of the group who had been there for some time. This actually made me beam with pride because though I may not have reached the top with them, I still felt like part of the group and not the outsider I normally felt like.
After a while at the top, enjoying the morning sun and fresh air, it was pie time so we descended back to the parking lot. Though the trip down was much quicker, my new friend and I still lingered in the back and took our time. I even stopped for a minute to obsess over this spectacular tree!
We finally made our way to Mom’s where we each enjoyed a nice slice and good conversation at the quaint little pie shop. I may not be a big pie person, but this shop is famous for a reason. Even I couldn’t deny how delicious my slice of strawberry rhubarb tasted.
I was sitting outside alone for a few minuted while everyone else finished up, and when my carpool came out they informed me that a group of them had decided to walk next door for tacos. Normally this would incite panic for me, the lack of control in my situation causing me to feel trapped. However I felt comfortable enough that I agreed with no hesitation, and spent the next hour sitting at a table with a group of maybe 8 or so other girls. I joined in conversations, joked around, and just didn’t feel the sense of underlying fear that I was so used to. This was a far cry from the girl who only hours prior had been gripped with dread at the thought of even going. We eventually made our way back into the city and once I was home I was exhausted, but brimming with joy at having had a successful day. I was extremely proud of myself for not only just making it through, but continuously rolling with the punches and not letting myself get overcome with anxiety in situations that would normally be terrifying for me.
One of the most positive outcomes from this experience actually came about two weeks later. I posted the following picture on Instagram, sharing my initial reservations and thanking the group:
Then I received several comments from women who were in the same boat, wanting to join a group hike but being too afraid to do so. Some of them shared their own feelings of anxiety, while others actually thanked me for my post and were hopeful that they too could push through it and venture out. One girl mentioned how she always wants to go but just getting out the door requires “popping anxiety pills”. Though said in a joking manner, this is a reality for many. Even just talking about anxiety can be extremely difficult, and wouldn’t you know it can cause even more anxiety! Posting something like this, as simple as it may seem, was tough but I really wanted to share my appreciation. I was so grateful that others were able to relate to it, and thought that if it could help even one person to rethink their reservations and get out there then it would be worth it!
The following week I was signed up for another event with the same group, but due to a family emergency was unable to attend. I discovered later that one of the girls who had commented on my post, stating how she related and hoped to one day attend a group hike, actually went! Perhaps she was already signed up, but given the timing I couldn’t help but feel as though I had a small part in her joining this event. This is a big part of why I started Wild Nemophilist in the first place. Mental health is not addressed enough in our society and we’re often made to believe that we’re overreacting and really we’re just shy, or feeling a little blue. People don’t fully understand the depths of these issues and it is not uncommon for us to be disregarded as dramatic, causing us to feel alienated and alone in our struggles. I have spoken with many other people in forums online who have mentioned that hiking and spending time outdoors helps them with depression and anxiety, and I want you all who deal with this daily to know that you’re not alone! Though situations like this can seem daunting, don’t feel as though it is out of reach. For me it took ignoring the bigger picture and just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, taking it one moment at a time. And by the end I had a new and exciting experience under my belt.
I can’t say that everyone will have the same experience that I did, or that it won’t be difficult. A few months ago I know for a fact that I would not have had such a positive experience, and likely would not have even ended up going. I’ve been working up to this point, and cannot even guarantee that the next time I try to attend a group event like this I won’t “chicken out”. Perhaps I was very lucky in the group that I chose to dive in with. I’ve since signed up for several more events with this group, as well as one or two with new groups. I’m nervous, and maybe some of them won’t be as pleasant of an experience, but all I can do is push forward and keep growing.
If you’re interested in Mountain Chicks, check out their website to find the nearest chapter:
*Cover image credit: Leticia Angelica from Mountain Chick SoCal