Life most definitely gets in the way! Sometimes we simply discover that we don’t have time for all the things we love. But that just makes them tastes sweeter when we rediscover them again. Ambassador Shelley writes about rediscovering her love and need for hiking, backpacking, and being in nature.

I smelled it as soon as I rolled down the windows: the unmistakably fresh piney smell of the outdoors. I am outdoors a lot these days, but it’s been a while since I’ve been as remote as I was last weekend when I backpacked for the first time in over 15 years.

Sure enough, my out-of-shape 47-year old self was about to go on an overnight Beginners Backpacking trip with complete strangers in a different state. My stomach was oogly, both in excitement and apprehension, but inhaling that forest aroma gave me the boost in confidence I needed. It was all going to be OK. I belonged here.

I am not really a beginner backpacker. Back in my 20s and 30s I camped and backpacked all the time. But, life gets in the way and schedules get hectic and while I enjoyed spending time outside and in the woods, I never really made it a priority.

After going through some challenging personal issues about three years ago, I felt the need to get back outside. Whether this urge was some form of defiant soul-searching needed to rediscover my inner badass or simply a way to calm my anxious brain, I don’t know. Probably both.

I started off with some long days of solo hiking in places I’d always wanted to visit, all within a couple of hours of my house in beautiful Lexington, Kentucky. One day at the Famer’s Market I saw a local author selling her book, Hike the Bluegrass and Beyond, and I thought, “It’s a sign!” Then, when she told me she only took cash or checks, of which I had neither, and offered to let me take the book if I promised I’d send her a check, I felt like the universe was definitely trying to tell me to get back outside.

I’ve slowly but consistently been exploring all our local hiking trails, nature preserves, and state parks. We have so many! The Kentucky River cuts a gorge through the area and the Palisades are beautifully ancient and awe-inspiring. We are lucky that much of this land is free and open for us to enjoy.

My kiddos accompany me on some of my hikes. I like exposing them to natural areas and seeing the woods through their eyes. The expressions on their faces when they see a frog, or a snake, or an unexpected cave are filled with awe and wonder. My heart is full when I see them walk across a creek on a log (sometimes falling in), scramble up a boulder, or follow tracks in the dirt. I love it when we come home covered in dirt and mud. We have a gallery of post-hike pictures of our muddy boots, proof of the experiences we’ve had and promises of the ones yet to come.

But as much as I like hiking with them and going on the occasional hike with a friend, I enjoy being by myself out there too. Going solo can be a bit scary at times like when I bump into four men hiking together on a secluded trail or when I gallop down a river path to escape an angry hornet that may or may not have actually been chasing me. Still, the quiet in my brain and the soothing sounds of the natural world ensure I will always make time for solo forays into the woods.

And so hiking led to backpacking. Best to reacclimate myself to the activity while with people who know what they’re doing in case it turns out I don’t. But other than my ongoing cardio battle with elevation, a minor bout of dehydration, and chigger bites on my backside, I came through it OK, learned some things, and made some new friends.

And that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to have been chosen as a Hike Like A Woman Ambassador: I have the honor of leading a new hiking group: Hike Like A Woman Central Kentucky. We will explore all around our Bluegrass region and make new friends while experiencing the wonders the outdoors has to offer us.

I was lucky enough to discover HLAW a couple of years ago when I was desperately in need of outdoor companionship. Even though HLAW is mostly an online community, I felt like a part of this group immediately. I’m lucky to consider myself a member of many tribes and look forward to adventures with this one, both virtually and in-person.

We are never too old to try something new or rediscover a calling we’ve let slip off our radar. We should never stop exploring because we never know what the next adventure will teach us, about the world and about ourselves.

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