Since I was a kid, one thing I’ve always known is that I should go to the woods when I have questions. Often, this is a solitary activity for me but in recent years I’ve found myself venturing out more with partners or small groups and that has completely transformed my experience – both on and off trail.
It might start because we have something in common. We like running (and hiking, and occasionally crawling). At its base, trail time with friends dissolves life’s clutter to a point where we can just roam free, celebrate movement, and enjoy. It’s downright delightful to look around and see my friends (and my ever-charismatic trail dog) dotted along a hillside like wildflowers.
And there’s more. Like wildflowers, we break open. We’re brilliant. And we plant seeds for the future. It’s a romantic metaphor but it’s true. When I’m on the trail with my friends and we dig into life – our jobs, our relationships, the state of the world, etc. – we figure stuff out. And let’s be honest, now that it’s okay to (responsibly) run together again, there’s a lot of figuring to do.
Some of us have lost jobs or had our wages reduced. Some of us have children and are feeling increased pressures to do right by them. Many of us are unpacking our privilege. Too many of us are questioning whether we are…enough. It all comes to the trail with us and we face it together.
And beyond problem-solving, the trail is an environment where no dream is too big. Can we move to a mountain town? Yes. Can we train for a 50-miler? Yes. Can we promote anti-racism in our workplaces? Yes. Can we ride our bikes across Scotland? Yes. Can we homeschool our kids? Um…
But what are dreams without plans? I recently crept up Mt. Bierstadt with a friend and about ten minutes into the downhill run, I suddenly lost the memory of that uphill and said, “I’d like to run something like… maybe the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim for my birthday next year.” And we proceeded to talk through the training and logistics to the point that I spent the next work week at my computer with the trail map open in the background. (Have beta? Let’s talk.)
Another friend has brainstormed nearly an entire business plan while on the trail. And another has made a commitment to pursue additional certifications in her work. We’ve all been able to contribute to each other’s visions along the way.
And what are plans without encouragement? I was on a tough trail with a (tougher) friend and she said, “Look how strong you are today!” and I laughed (because I’m awkward) and she said, “I’m strong, too! Think of us on this trail a year ago.” Our Trail Sisters are a special kind of mirror. They show us where we’ve been and ground us in where we’re headed.
So yes, we are connected by this activity we love. And we are thriving because we are connected. Leaving the dishes in the sink and the world at the trailhead, the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other transcends the activity and reminds us that we are still in motion. Our careers can still move forward even if our jobs are not. Our children are still growing even if they don’t get to see their friends. Our hearts are beating even if they are broken.
I went to the woods to find answers and I found friends.