Please welcome Jordan to the website today with a tales of transformation and a story of determination. Reading her story hit close to home for me…how often do we fight against feelings of insecurity? Too often. Jordan’s story will leave you smiling, and cheering her on every single step of the way. But I think it will inspire you to set a goal and then crush it. Thank you Jordan, for sharing this with us.
For the longest time, I dreamed of being the ultimate outdoors woman. I wanted the knowledge, the skills, and the physical fitness of a hiker, yet I always felt too intimidated to take the first step. For too long, I allowed my hurdles to prevent me from hitting the trails with friends and co-workers, and I’d often opt out of exploring the forests because I didn’t feel qualified enough. After half a mile, my cheeks would turn bright red, my asthmatic lungs would become short of breath, I’d sneeze nonstop, and I’d slowly start fading away from the pack due to my own embarrassment and fatigue.
When I moved down to southern West Virginia in 2015, the New River Gorge National River became my backyard, and for the first summer – I probably hit the trails less than five times. The landscape was gorgeous – full of secret waterfalls, abundant cliff-side views, and thousands of blooming wildflowers, but I felt too inexperienced and too out of shape to actually hike longer than a mile or two.
When the spring of 2016 came around, I realized that due to my inactive lifestyle, I was slowly deteriorating my overall health. I was the heaviest that I had ever been, my blood pressure was out of control, and I walked an average of under 1,000 steps a day from driving to work, sitting at a desk, and laying around at home. It hit me all at once, and I knew that if I wanted to be the best that I could be for myself, I had to make changes.
New River Gorge had announced their 100 Mile Hiking Challenge in the beginning of 2016, and while a part of me thought that I was crazy for even attempting the challenge – I printed out my log sheet and started hitting the trails.
The first thing I realized was that one of my biggest barriers in believing I couldn’t be a hiker was coming from no one other than myself.
On the trail, there are no stopwatches telling me that I’m too slow, or bystanders gawking at me for taking breaks. It’s just yourself and the comfort of the trail holding your hand along the way.
I made a promise to myself to start out solo hiking, so that I wouldn’t feel intimidated by the company of others. And I also decided to make a point of listening to nothing other than the nearby river, the wildlife, the wind, and the sound of my heavy breathing until it all meshed into one soundtrack.
There were times when I wanted to give up, or fudge my trail numbers, or attempt to flag down a taxi on the side of the road to take me back to my car, but I kept pressing on. I started with small trails after work, and slowly pushed myself to getting into the double digits. I also stopped caring about how my body looked when I’d pass others on the trail; the sweaty skin, the bulging belly, the leg rashes…all of it…because knowing that they were accompanied by strengthened lungs and powerful legs made me proud of every part of my body. Every step was a triumph, and I relished in the newly found strength that I never knew I had.
Towards the end of the challenge, I managed to hike 16 miles in one sitting, and completely blew myself away at my own perseverance. Were there times on that trail where I sat down on the ground and wondered if I’d have enough energy to finish? Absolutely, but that’s what made the trip so incredible; the pain, the triumph, the fear, the joy – it all filled every second of those hours and made the experience all the more incredible.
Being a hiker doesn’t mean that you have to summit the tallest mountain, or hit the trails every week, or fit into a small box of elite members that only wear high-end hiking gear, and only hike in national parks and forests. Being a hiker means embracing your own identity, setbacks, and passions in a space that works for you. We all have limitations, but sometimes, those limitations come from our inability to realize that we’re stronger than we think. Completing the challenge was awe-inspiring, and losing 30 pounds along the way even more so – but that challenge was just the beginning.
I now have the confidence to hit the trails even with the limitations that come along the way. Does my face still get insanely red? Yes. Do I still get out of breath going up a small hill? Sure do. Am I sometimes slower than the rest of the pack? You bet. But knowing how far I’ve come along is what keeps me going, and embracing the “setbacks” that sometimes set me aside from the rest of my hiking group allow me to keep pressing forward, while understanding that I don’t have to live up to being what I think a hiker should be. I, myself, in my current state, am a hiker.
If you’ve ever felt intimidated by the trail, by others, or by yourself – know that the forests, the deserts, the prairies – they’re all welcoming and supporting you along the way.