Personal Story

Hiking, Healing, and Love by Nicole Snell

When you think of meditation and self-care what do you picture? For many of us that may mean a yoga class, a meditation app, going to the spa or beauty salon, reading a book or maybe even sitting quietly at home. For me, it’s lacing up my hiking boots, packing snacks in my backpack, and topping off my water bladder before heading to the mountains for a hike. IMG_2101

Hiking has been a source of peace and healing for me. I always feel the most comfortable, happy and free when I am outdoors in nature. Being outdoors exploring the world has been a passion of mind from the time I was old enough to walk. Growing up in the desert, I’ll never forget the feeling of going off to explore and finding a new plant, lizard or rock that excited the curiosity in me. I respect all that nature has to offer and I find beauty in even the smallest discovery. I squeal with joy when I find a trapdoor spider web with an actual spider guarding the entrance. I stop and reflect on the beauty around us when I find a late blooming Mariposa Lily peeking out from behind some chaparral on a less traveled section of trail.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing_Nicole hands on hips_Emerald LakesAlthough I’ve always been an explorer and lover of nature, I didn’t discover how deep my passion for hiking was until 2016 when I went to New Zealand to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a 19.4-kilometer one-way journey that takes you between two active volcanoes. It is considered one of the best Great Walks in New Zealand with breathtaking landscapes, stunning views, and is truly a once in a lifetime experience. My longest hike before I undertook this challenge was 6 miles so I knew that I was going to need to train, research and bring the right equipment to be successful.

IMG_2868I was worried that I wouldn’t have what it takes to complete such a long hike, but my spirit of adventure wouldn’t let me entertain that negative thought. I stepped off the shuttle and merged with the hundreds of other hikers also arriving at the trailhead. I stopped to take in the first views of the majestic landscape and was overwhelmed with anticipation, pride, excitement, awe, and love. I was about to spend 8 hours on a new trail, in a new country, tackling obstacles, elevations and climates that I was unaccustomed to and I couldn’t wait to get started. I was prepared. I was ready.

Words can’t express the beauty I experienced in those 12miles of New Zealand World Heritage volcanic alpine landscape. The cocktail of emotions I felt at the start were with me throughout the trek as I conquered each milestone with a huge smile of satisfaction and the determination to keep going. After 7.5hrs of walking, taking pictures and exploring, I reached the ending point and was clapped through by the hikers that finished before me. A massive feeling of accomplishment washed over me even as my legs gave out and I had to sit down to rest. When the shuttles came to get us I thought to myself, “I did it…and I want to do this again!”
From that point on hiking was my passion. I started following hiking accounts on Instagram and researching backpacks, hiking boots and all the other hiking accessories that would expand my hiking knowledge and allow me to push my personal limits further. Being on a trail is really the only place I feel completely grounded and connected to myself. It doesn’t matter what type of trail I’m on- an urban trail like Runyon Canyon or rugged trails like Cucamonga Peak -because all that matters is that I’m outside in the fresh air doing what I love.

IMG_3910Hiking is healing for me because it helps me focus on the fact that the journey is really about my body, my mind and the trail. It’s my physical body, my determination, my discipline and my fitness that is going to get me through to the end. Whether I’m hiking solo or with a group to motivate each other towards a common goal, it is my body that is doing the work, my feet navigating my steps, my eyes taking in the surroundings, my lungs taking in the air, and my heart pumping to keep up with the physical demand. It is a personal journey every step of the way and this is why I feel connected to myself and to nature whenever I hit the trails.

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