What’s your hiking spirit animal? For contributor Christina Brickwedde it is a hungry panda. Read how she compares herself to Kung Fu Panda when she’s on the trail.

Who am I? Is that a question everyone asks themselves, or just me? Do other suburbanites wander around from yoga class to yoga class, to Trader Joes, Starbucks and that indie donut shop they just opened down the street, concerned with who they are and what’s special about them? And like me, do they tend to define themselves… around food? How much longer until lunch? How much longer until I can have a snack? If I don’t look up how many calories are in a Chick-fil-A sandwich, medium fries, and diet lemonade, does it really count?

As with many other women I’d wager, this constant thought of food, health, and weight weighs heavily sometimes (hah pun intended). Why do all of my Instagram friends look thin while they appear to constantly consume entire platters of nachos? And, more importantly, why can’t I do that? And where’s the nearest place I can get nachos?

You’re probably wondering why, on a hiking blog, I’m rambling about food (or maybe not, and we’re soul twins – in which case: call me, we’ll get nachos). But for me, food, my health, and who I am are intricately linked to why I hike. Now, you might assume that I hike because I want to be skinny (a by-product I have yet to realize, by the way, so if that was the case, I’d be holding out hope for a while longer). But it’s not that simple. Like many women here, hiking is a great benefit to my health and I appreciate that aspect of it. I like feeling strong, empowered, and healthy. Walking 10 miles will make you feel that way. But it’s more than that.

I can do amazing things when food is on the line

The easiest way to explain it is if you understand that Po, the panda from Kung Fu Panda, is my hiking spirit animal. If you haven’t seen Kung Fu Panda, leave now, watch it, and return only social settings after when you can converse about the finer topics of pop culture. If you have seen it, you’ll understand what I mean when I say I can do amazing things when food is on the line. Like Po, I can climb ev’ry mountain, ford ev’ry stream (sorry, wrong movie) when I know a double cheeseburger and large fries await me on the other side. When hiking last weekend, my companions would literally say things like, “I think there’s a BBQ joint at the place we finish up from this time” and somehow, my feet would miraculously move faster.

In the movie, when Po’s master realizes his devotion to food, he uses this strength to help him train, evolve, and grow. In my life, my adoration and close relationship with food (it’s complicated, but still Facebook official) has always been a sore spot with me. When people say things like, “Oh, I just forgot to eat,” I simply can’t make the synapses in my brain connect to understand because that has literally never happened to me. But on the trail – I use this part of me. This twisted, self-hate generating piece of me can be reformed, remolded, and repurposed. It helps drive me. And, in the setting of a trail, it drives me in a healthy way because I need fuel to continue my trek.

When I wanted to undertake hiking in a serious way, I read and watched and studied all of the things that would prepare me the best, make me the best (I just like to be the best, okay?). But once I got onto the trail and truly tested myself, none of that really mattered (except for what I learned about keeping my pack light). Instead, I discovered the same thing Po did. Hiking is a wonderful experience for me because I make it so – using all my flaws, insecurities, and gifts, including my love of food waiting at trail’s end. It’s all of those things together that helped me realize: there is no secret ingredient. The satisfaction, the joy, the success, it all comes from within. It’s just me, the trail, and hopefully a plate of nachos on the other end.

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