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

14650262_10157585813960331_3368498577537693360_n

14656339_10157585814300331_2453404753335458988_n

14657499_10157585814360331_1622494433374228437_n

14690884_10157585814185331_4873042493366526397_n

14713645_10157585814055331_3323550828477112878_n

Advertisements

Awakening.

I am really not sure how to write this post, so I am just going to dive right in.

For more than a year now, I have been participating in the #52HikeChallenge.  Today I completed Hike 51 (I am almost done!  Once completed, I will be writing a reflection on my experience so stay tuned for that post.  Anywho, now for a reflection on today’s hike).

For this morning’s hike, I went to the Nebraska/South Dakota border, just a few minutes outside of Vermillion, to an overlook called Mulberry Bend.

I like this hike because it is less than a 20 minute drive away, and the trail is just under a mile long, so I can do it even on the busiest of days.  Because of the ease, convenience, and simplicity of this trail, it’s never stuck out to me as anything special.  This morning, however, I saw this trail through fresh eyes.

I was almost back to the overlook from the trail when I spotted a patch of color on a tree off to my right.  It was the first trace of Fall that I’ve seen this season.  I love Fall.  The changing colors are beautiful, and vastly different with every season, every patch of trees.  The leaves change every year, and then drop off, dead.  It’s truly amazing.  This cycle of life shows its presence each year, and yet I find myself falling in love with October again and again.  What’s not to be in awe of?

I was stopped in the middle of the trail.  In awe.  Staring at the leaves.

It’s beautiful.  That’s why I fall in love year after year.  How can one ignore beauty?  You just can’t.  But then I thought about how soon these leaves will fall, turn ugly brown, and decay into the Earth.  I was thinking to myself how sad it was that this beauty only lasts a short period of time.  Why is it that this amazing season of year is so short?  It is overshadowed by this dark and cold time that seems to last FOREVER.  Why?

That’s when it hit me.  For leaves, beauty is in death.  Not life.

Leaves go silently.  They simply live their life hidden in plain sight, showing their true beauty only for a short period of time, and then they drop off.  They fall to the Earth and are covered in a blanket of cold for the next few months.

There it was.  Another sign of Mike’s legacy.  Mike was an autumn leaf.  He lived a short life of simplicity.  Full of life, adventure, and love, he showed his beauty to the world for a short 24 years.  Then one day, his time came.  He dropped off, and gave himself back to the Earth.

This post, is not meant to be sad.  Nor is it even about Mike.  This post is about life, nature, beauty, and simplicity, and how in a single moment I was reminded of each of these things.

I guess what I am trying to say is that in one moment I felt more spiritually alive and well than I have in a very long time.

As you’ve read in recent posts, wellbeing is something that I am trying to incorporate into my daily life.  In this moment, I felt deeply spiritually well.  I felt connected to nature, God, Mike, and my new environment.  I haven’t felt something like this since moving to South Dakota.

I long for adventure, and simplicity.  I miss the way I felt when I was hiking along the shore of Lake Superior.  I underestimated the connection that I have with water.  I underestimated the power of the outdoors.  I never knew how spiritually awake I was simply being in the company of nature.

This revelation from this morning has been on my mind all day.  Moving forward, I seek to live with a spirit of adventure and mindfulness, allowing moments like this to awaken my soul.

Sending peace, love, and positive vibes

–Joel

img_6554
Such a small patch of leaves on this tree left such a big impact on my day