Why I really started hiking
Since sharing my hiking adventures on this blog I’ve been a bit self-conscious about a big word hiding in my About Me section: heartbroken. It's been the thing most people have asked about in person or while walking together, but I’ve never really had the guts to write about. So, whether it’s Day Med* or Brené Brown** cheering me on, here comes a big one. Why I started hiking in the first place.
In my experience there are two types of heartbreak. One is from letting go of someone you love, and even though it's the worst thing in the world your gut instinct tells you it’s right. The other is from ignoring all warning signs and running face-first into a wall you've known was there all along – because you feel like you have absolutely no other option. There’s no gut feeling or sense of self left to hold you back. Or if anything you’re actually running from it.
Almost three years ago I went through both within 8 months. I broke up with my boyfriend of three years which felt like losing a limb. Then I fell hard for someone even more broken then me and we had a brief and intense romance which ended, of his accord, after 6 months of me clinging on to him for dear life although he couldn’t (and didn’t want to) commit. Which from the outside sounds pathetic, I know. But from the inside, when it ended I had absolutely nothing left. In the previous year I had lost a huge group of friends, and felt isolated living in a city where getting drunk weekend after weekend in the same pubs with the same people seemed the only way to be part of anything. And then, after the hard but healthy decision to move away from that, was consistently and torturously not let into the life of the new person I thought would solve all my problems: my deep need for connection, love, friendship, belonging. I felt not only alone but deserted: because I wasn’t worthy of love and commitment. And I was left with zero respect, let alone love, for myself.
A week before the actual end of said romance I met my friend Lucy for lunch in town. After my usual chorus of “But maybe he would want to be with me if I just pretend to be less desperate?” I said maybe I need to get out of the city and clear my head. And Lucy, thank God for Lucy, said this is EXACTLY what I need. After lunch I found a walking blog and emailed the author for advice on what would be a good first walk from London. She sent me the link for Hassocks to Lewes on the SWC website which I’d soon know inside out. The following Saturday, the morning after the final, brutal end of Satan’s marathon of cardiac annihilation, Lucy and I took the train to Hassocks and walked to Lewes. And at last my journey of patching myself back together started.
Over the next two years I’d go on many more days out of the city to clear my head, and slowly build a thirst for going further. My weekend hobby started to turn into a daily lunch break research subject, and soon took over my holidays too with two trips to India, hiking and camping up and down the West Coast of the States and walking the West Highland Way. Along the way, I made incredible friendships based on common goals and passions with people that truly inspire me and I've learned so much from. Bizarrely, I even inspired a few of those people to start hiking themselves. But more importantly I discovered a way to rebuild my relationship with myself. And turns out: I like me! I think it’s cool that I love raincoats and get kicks from spending days outside in the fresh air. Hiking, and with it my journey back from heartbreak, has shown me how reliable I am, how tenacious and brave.
Today spending time outdoors is about more for me than walking from A to B. Paying attention, watching leaves in the wind, listening to birds and water and wind creates that exact sense of connection I’ve always been looking for, but on a much bigger level. Everything is full of life and love, and we’re all part of it. Although of course I still lose my way I’ve built something through hiking that’s stronger than my fear of criticism or loneliness, a place where I can tap back into my wilder self. And she's got my back.
*I have the mother of all colds.
**I just read Braving the Wilderness about finding True Belonging (surprise! It's not having a boyfriend!) and can heartily recommend it – or if you’ve never heard of her you MUST watch her TED talk immediately.