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Self Portrait Series 8/52

As a child, my dad would take me hiking, like, all the time. I vividly remember him telling me what an amazing hiker I was, even as a small child. “You’re so fast! you’re doing amazing! You’re leading the pack! You’re an amazing hiker, Abi!” Maybe it was because I was so young and he wanted me to keep going without complaint, or maybe it was because I really was a good hiker. I’ll probably never know for sure. I look back on those memories fondly. It was great to get out with my dad, move my body, and be in nature.

Buying Into the Lie

As I got older I started to dislike hiking or anything like it. I’m not one who regularly exercises. I don’t even like that word and all the stigma around it. In fact, it’s very triggering for me. Due to my complicated feelings about exercise, I actually stopped connecting with my body through movement. I genuinely loved moving my body in ways that are considered exercise, but because it fell under that category, I refused to do it. Do I need therapy for that? Probably. 

Growing up, I danced, played soccer and softball, skied, snowboarded, hiked, swam and did track and field. I loved doing all of these things as a child/teen. Somewhere, something happened where it was mandatory for me to exercise. I needed to lose weight. I needed to be a runner. I needed to lift weights. I needed to do xyz in order to be healthy. WHAT IN THE HELL?! That’s a false narrative I totally accepted and believed. I needed to live a full life and enjoy doing things I naturally like doing! That is what I need to do. And hiking has taught me that lesson these last few years. 

A Turning Point

About two years ago Ammon and I took our children on a hike up to doughnut falls at the top of Big Cottonwood canyon. It is a very simple hike and the kids loved it. As we were hiking down from the top my serotonin must have peaked because I couldn’t wipe the incredibly goofy smile off my face. I fell in love. I forgot how much I enjoyed hiking for so long and here I was loving it. The weather was perfect, the smell of fresh pine filled my lungs, the kids were laughing and singing as we trotted along the dusty path back to the car. My entire being was full of light. There really is something so magical about the mountains that fill my soul with joy. 

My ancestors, on both sides of my family, were pioneers who trekked from the midwest all the way over the Rockies to settle in the Salt Lake Valley. Maybe it is because of them that I love it so much. My nana, my dad’s mom, loved to hike. It was one of her favorite pastimes that has been brought down through my dad to me. I don't doubt that I am closest with my ancestors when I am hiking. It clears my mind and frees my soul. 

I decided that day that I was going to hike more. It instantly resurrected a part of me that I had long forgotten. I wasn’t doing it out of duty, but out of pleasure. For the first time in my life I understood why people enjoyed “working out”. 
After that magical hike my sister Emily told me she and her Husband were going to hike Rim to Rim the following October. It was about 7 months away and I instantly invited myself along. She kind of gave me the eye - the one that says “You sure about that, Abi?” And I affirmed 100% that I was going to do it with them. 

Changing the Narrative

The first training hike I went on was with Emily and my older sister Kelli, who also decided to hike Rim to Rim with us too. We went on a hike called Lake Blanche. Little did I know what I had signed up for. It was my second hike y’all. This was a 2,808 elevation gain in 6.8 miles. That is not an easy hike. In fact, on the All Trails app, which I love, it is ranked “hard”. After the first 20 minutes or so I knew my sisters were ready to get going (I was silently dying) so I told them to go ahead and I would go at my own pace. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the top. I had a few mental breakdowns, I was dehydrated and I made it .5 miles from the top before my sisters circled me on their way down. 

That day something deep within me changed. I knew it. I felt it. I knew I needed to change my narrative. I was alway the overweight sister. The slow one. The safe one. From ages 30 to 34 I kept having dreams that I tried to run but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. I would wake up in a cold sweat knowing that I hadn’t run or moved in a long time. I felt like my body was crying for help! It was screaming at me to just go outside and run as fast as I could - not for exercise, but to remind myself that I was capable of movement. That I could use my legs and arms and body to move. I kept thinking of men and women who have lost their legs - what they would give to go hike a mountain or just walk outside and run for a second. That day, on that mountain, I pushed myself to a place that was unfamiliar. A place that I haven’t been many times in my life. A very uncomfortable and awkward and new place. IT was refreshing and healing and truly life changing. 

Hiking has taught me so many lessons. One of them being that I have a beautiful, capable body! It has taught me to listen. To breathe. To go at my own pace. To get outside. To be thankful for my abilities.




Jill Alston

I love reading your blog Abi! Thanks for sharing! I feel like mar are friends even though we have never met. I too love hiking, even though growing up I thought it was hot and boring. As an adult, hiking helps me because life can be hard but when I’m in the mountains I think less of my problems and feel more peace and closer to God. Going up a mountain is still dang hard though!

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