It’s easy to get caught up in life and lose yourself to your day-to-day tasks. Life happens, and life happens quickly. Contributor Jacquelyn O’Connor explains how she found herself again through hiking. I feel like this is something many of us can identify with.
Growing up I was privileged to spend most of my childhood in the great outdoors. Living in Maine provided ample opportunities to be outside. My parents’ profession was working in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a 92-mile canoe route located in Northern Maine, which meant my first few years of life I lived in the woods. When I was old enough to start school, we would spend summers and vacations in the Allagash. It was not uncommon to find me asleep in the bow of my father’s canoe, paddling around in my kayak, or hiking mountains to fire towers. With my hometown being at the base of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park many of my school field trips were based in and around Baxter.
Did I always enjoy hiking, absolutely not. In middle school, I remember despising hiking as I felt it was such a chore and found no enjoyment in it. During high school that started to change. I had the perfect opportunities in my backyard to hike with easy access to the Appalachian Trail and one of the largest mountains in New England. I was able to take advantage of what the area had to offer, but could have enjoyed it more. When you are in high school, there are more important things then hiking.
My senior year I got accepted to college in Nashua, New Hampshire. Moving to Nashua made me realize how much I missed living near an array of outdoor activities. When my husband and I met we shared the same love of the outdoors and started hitting the trails in the White Mountains. As most people’s lives go we slowly started getting away from hiking and outdoor activities. With college, getting married, receiving my masters in Social Work and buying a house it felt like we were stuck in the rut of always running around and not slowing down to enjoy each other.
Beginning to hike again
Living in the Monadnock area in New Hampshire we had access to various hiking trails. I bought a couple hiking guides and we started hitting the trails every weekend. This was great for us in so many ways. We were able to reconnect after our busy work weeks, stay in shape and explore the beauty of the outdoors. It also helped that hiking was a free or low cost activity. After the birth of our daughter we continued our hiking adventures. As life started getting busy again with a young child we slowly got away from the outdoor activities. Again I felt like we were stuck in a rut always running around and not spending any quality time as a family.
One day my husband said to me, “You need to find a hobby.” As a social worker, my job can be stressful. I was coming home irritable and not finding much enjoyment as I did not have anything that was for me. My husband had his hobby of hunting and my daughter had her involvement in sports and after school activities, but what did I have? I thought to myself, how can I have a hobby of my own, I work full time, I am busy being a mom and involved in my daughters activities, being a wife and just trying to run a somewhat successful household. As I thought about what my husband had said I realized he was right, I did need something that was just for me. Don’t tell him I said he was right. Doing something for myself does not mean that it takes me away from my family or home obligations for hours at a time, just something to fulfill a part of my life that was missing.
First step, how do you find a hobby?
This was a tough one. I live in a rural area so it’s not like I can just join a class or a club. Plus, I did not want to spend a lot of money. What was something I could do that was enjoyable, close to home and does not cost a lot of money? HIKING
Hiking is something I can do in my backyard, as well as access various trails just a few miles from my house. Since I was not new to hiking I dusted off my hiking boots, day pack and hiking guides and started planning hikes again. It was a little hard getting back into it as I was not in the best shape. I started out slow and enjoyed every minute of it. Do you know what the best part was? This was something my family could do with me. I did not force them, but my husband and daughter usually wanted to go with me. Other times I would hike with friends or just me and my golden retriever. Hiking gave me a new outlook on life. I found it very relaxing walking through the forest and able to clear my mind from the stressors of the week. The victory of a beautiful view and completing a hike gave me a sense of accomplishment. When I was not hiking I found myself more relaxed, better focused and just feeling overall better, physically and emotionally. Our family vacations started being planned around hiking or outdoor activities.
Getting Lost Together
Slowly friends and co workers started asking me about my hiking adventures and looking for my recommendations of trails they could do to get themselves outside more. Last spring, I decided to start a Facebook Page, “Getting Lost Together”, to showcase my families outdoor adventures with the goal of getting more people, especially women and children, outside. The title came because I felt that losing yourself can be good way to clear your mind from everyday stressors and if you can do it with someone else that has the same goal, even better. I have also written a couple guest columns on outdoor activities for my local newspaper and advised others of how to get outside more.
Most weekends you will find my family and myself hitting the local trails. Do I feel guilty about it the time I have taken for myself, absolutely not. This has made me a better wife and mother. I feel I am a better person for finding something that is just for me. I find joy in looking for new trails or outdoor activities. Sharing some of my own childhood memories with my daughter and sharing our experiences with others who want to get outside more. My advice for other women would be do not be afraid to do something for yourself. I am constantly telling my patients they cannot take care of others if they do not take care of themselves. I am happy to say I practice what I preach, most of the time, and hope to encourage other women to do the same thing. Do not be afraid to get out there and hit the trails to find yourself.