Quality of Life: What I Learned From The #52HikeChallenge.

I believe so often in our social media and technology driven world that people do things just so they can snap a pic of it to share on their Snapchat story or post to Instagram.  I mean for real, people take the phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” to a whole new level these days.  Such is the case with social media challenges such as the #52HikeChallenge.

While I do appreciate great photo ops and I love to capture memories from time well spent, I also realized that quite often I am snapping a picture at the last second as I am remembering that I am completing a challenge, and I must document each hike.  I find myself so immersed in the moment and in awe of the scenery and wildlife or the company of those that I am with that I forget to take a photo, or on the contrary, I will have a super busy day or week and I will find myself rushing out for a ten minute hike just so that I can post a silly picture.

Don’t get me wrong.  I absolutely loved participating in this challenge.  I loved my hikes.  In fact, I hiked way more than 52 times and didn’t document and/or share every one.  You don’t have to ask me to join a social media challenge to get me outside or to go for a hike each week…believe me, I am already five steps ahead of you.  I’m out the door, water bottle in hand, and shoes on my feet before you have even thought about a hike.

I want you to know that this challenge is based on a timeline, however, life isn’t.  So I didn’t follow the guideline of hiking once a week for a year.  Some of my posts were two days apart some were eight.  I even took a month-long social media hiatus during my challenge.  During that time I was still hiking, but not using any of those hikes for my challenge.  I picked up with my hikes where I left off after my hiatus was over.

Sooooo…what exactly did I learn from completing the #52HikeChallenge?

I learned that I am madly, deeply, wildly in love with the outdoors.  I learned that I am a horrible photographer, even though I really do enjoy the artistic and creative side of taking photos.  It truly is an art.  The only reason I say I am a horrible photographer is because I am so lost in the moment that I forget to actually take the photos.  Mix that with my crappy camera and I don’t have a very good combination.  I learned that there is a wide, vast, and diverse community of hikers in this big, wide, beautiful world.  I learned that I love connecting with these individuals.  I learned that everyone has a different experience with their hikes, and with nature.  I learned that the way we share our stories and experiences is different too.  I learned that people are strong as well as what the power of nature, hiking, and being one with the outdoors can do for an individual.

Speaking of sharing our stories and the power of nature, I have a pretty amazing one to share with you.

I learned that hiking is a great healing mechanism.  The day after I graduated from college, my best friend and I found out that her older brother (and best friend) had passed away in a hiking accident in Denali National Park.  While I did not know Mike well, I felt like I knew him very well because of social media and the stories that Monica always told.  These stories were filled with laughter, love, nature, the outdoors, hiking, music, tattoos, and life philosophy.  Mike was a dream maker, a risk taker, and a life liver.  His spirit of adventure and his passion for getting the most out of life are two traits that I deeply admire, and since his passing, have tried to adapt more into my own way of life.

After Monica’s tragic loss, I saw a huge change in the way she lived her daily life.  She was devastated, but she was not willing to let her loss and the storm that she was facing dictate her future.  She started connecting with nature in ways that I had not seen her do before.  She lived with intention.  She did things she wanted to do when she wanted to do them.  Monica’s whole life view had changed.  For the better.  She looked to the outdoors as a way of connecting with Mike and bringing his spirit into every minute of her day, every realm of her life.  She sought to share his story and his passion for hiking and music and photography.  Her passion for each of these things deepened as well.

You can find this story here.

Hiking allowed this growth, healing, and change to occur for Monica.

So, after seeing the changes in Monica’s life, I started hiking with that same intention.  I wanted to connect.  With nature, myself, Mike’s spirit.  I wanted to get more out of life, and I was using my hikes to do this.  I was no longer completing a social media challenge.  I was completing a life challenge.  I was using this opportunity to grow and to seek fulfillment.  I was hiking to live, living to hike.

In wrapping up this refection piece I would just like to leave you with one final thought.

What is the most important lesson that I learned from the #52HikeChallenge?  It is this:

It’s not about the quality of the photo being taken, rather the quality of life being lived by the person taking it.

Hike on,

-Joel

Here are a few photos from my final hike

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