The past year, which will remain nameless, was many things, not the least of which was: revealing. In regards to my hiking journey, I’m leaning more intentionally into it as a way to process my brain through my feet. Scores of studies have said what I’ve been proving with my body: that physical activity is integral to good mental health. The accomplishments I make on trails follow me into my “real life”. Not only does it give me time to work through my worries, pray through and release the things too big for me, and make decisions out of the right mindset, it also reminds me that I can push myself a little farther than I think without it draining me.
I live right on the edge of provincial parkland at the base of the Rockies in Alberta, so there is no lack of good hiking spots, including trails right out my back door. I’m a kilometer from where the Great Trail (formerly the TransCanada Trail) runs, and literally walk out my door into Kananaskis Country. So during the early days of the pandemic, when we were allowed to venture past our property lines, I made hiking into a prayer, a therapy, a refuge. I hope my experience can encourage even just one fellow hiker to see their pastime in this way.
Because I realize hiking is so necessary for my life, I’ve decided to be more holistically intentional about getting better at hiking this season, and that has included embracing two new activities: cross country skiing and running.
I started running in April, using a Couch to 5K app to give me a loose goal and structure. Building up my endurance in this way has vastly improved my hiking game when I take my walks/runs off-road and go back into the forests. It’s also been teaching me that being bad at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I’ve learned, too, that progress, like being able to go from just running for a minute straight to being able to run for twenty minutes straight, is actually achievable if you break it down into small enough and long enough goals. I’m no longer berating myself or quitting because I can’t do something I want to do on the first try. It has been humbling to see how much I’ve let my body languish, and I’ve been trying to treat her better now that I know how much she wants to serve me well.
Cross-country skiing has been a godsend during this pandemic, as it’s been one of the only social things we’ve been able to do consistently. I ski either alone or with a good group of friends who are all better at it than I am but have taught me it’s ok to let others be gracious and slow down for me. I’m learning I don’t have to keep apologizing for not being able to keep up. I am seeing how healthy communities long to have a way to show grace, and I am serving by being a recipient, as well as when I’m the one giving the grace. It’s also building my balance, my endurance, and giving my muscles a workout they wouldn’t normally get on just a run or even a hike. My body is learning how to pivot, much like my mind has had to this past year in so many ways as well.
Out in the woods, on the foothills, and even in the mountains, I’m slowly being taught lessons that are vital to not just how my body works, but my mind and soul as well. The time spent getting to know these forests and mountains are times I’m also getting to know God better, and appreciating His handiwork, and I’m also learning my own mind and heart better. Walking the trails of my soul as I tread pine needled-paths is the balm I will always return to, and I hope you also begin to find hiking to be a healing practice in this difficult season.
Anna Grist lives in southern Alberta next to the Rockies. She has a blog at serendipimoosetracks.com and also writes/designs for Paper&String, a monthly online publication. She and her husband have two children, and twin cats Quill & Ink. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking in nearby Kananaskis Country, Canmore, and Banff.