What does one do when you’re 34 years old, burnt out and a cardiologist tells you your heart condition is all the result of stress, fatigue and anxiety?
You go for a hike.
About 5 years ago, I found myself in that exact situation. I was in a job and city that I loved, but I had completely lost myself in it. It was a wake up call to find myself rushed to St. Mike’s emergency room, unable to breathe without chest pain, hooked up to ECG’s and surrounded by a team of doctors looking at me with worried facial expressions.
“She looks perfectly healthy, so why is her heart swollen?”
It’s amazing how much stress we can all absorb without really noticing it; even more so how much our bodies will allow and push through so we can function throughout our day-to-day. After all was said and done, the cardiologist advised me to either rethink my load at work or make some drastic life changes. So I kind of did both.
Shut down and restart
It wasn’t easy for me to walk away from so much that I felt had brought me validation and success. I gave myself a year to take a less demanding job. I reset my priorities, social commitments and where I allocated time. I granted myself permission to set boundaries and say no with less guilt. I started spending more time outdoors in the fresh air. I slowed way down.
This new perspective on life led me away from the city I loved and into more natural environments. I rediscovered home and discovered hiking trails.
It’s hard to describe the change that has occurred in me since I started to immerse myself in nature again. I definitely prefer things a lot quieter now. I listen to myself with greater intention and my relationships have become far closer. It’s not so much that I have less in my life, but what I do have is nourishing, authentic, natural and fulfilling.
A colleague recently described the change in me as ‘palpable’. I smiled and laughed when I heard her say it. I didn’t realize it could be so visible to the outside eye. It was just before that conversation when I launched this blog; a means of sharing how I, and eventually others, experience finding themselves in the wild.
Share the love.
Over the past few years, my trips have evolved from solo excursions (mostly in Algonquin and Killarney) into multiple weekends a year with friends. There is something to be said for solo hiking, but it’s been wonderful to be able to share the experience and allow others the opportunity to reap the benefits of more time outside.
For those who have not spent a great deal of time outside, or hiking in general, the idea of taking on trails can be intimidating. All three of my “Trail Tribe” had never been to Algonquin prior to coming with me. What initially took a bit of convincing, has turned into a mutual love, appreciation and desire to get out hiking.
Getting away to Algonquin is hard to describe to people. It’s a feeling that once you experience you always want to say YES to! For me it’s the ultimate girls weekend. Not only do I recharge, but I find new pieces of me. It’s an Important Place and a home away from home. It’s magic! ~ Christina
Centennial Ridges Trail:
10.4km, awesome views. Considered difficult (4 hours)
These weekend getaways have become a fantastic way for us to reconnect and share quality time together. Conversations are deeper when you place yourself in an environment with no cell reception. The only distractions are bird calls, squirrels or the odd tree root that trips you up on the trail.
Stress, anxiety and worries have a tendency to fall away when you’re in the forest. You breathe it in, sigh it out, and the trail takes care of the rest. It’s an irreplaceable feeling.
Explore new paths.
I’ve quickly discovered that once you start exploring trails your desire for more grows exponentially. It feels like there is an endless network of trail systems available in Ontario, which is super exciting!
I broke away from my own comfort zone in the fall of 2016 to conquer The Crack; a famous hike in Killarney Provincial Park. It is challenging, beautiful and a whole new kind of terrain than I’ve been accustomed to.
Over the winter we discovered Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve. It’s a hidden gem with a large selection of fairly easy trails with lovely lake views to enjoy, just outside of Huntsville. Having experienced the winter, we knew we wanted to return for spring.
If trails are open, it’s fun to visit them during different seasons. What becomes familiar can feel new again, which makes things interesting time and time again.
One gets so absorbed in the day-to-day life in the urban jungle. Only after a weekend of reconnecting with nature does one realize how good it is to take a hike with the Tribe! A weekend of hiking in the beauty of Limberlost Forest and Algonquin Park can be the simplest way to reclaiming balance and relaxation. – Daniela
Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve:
Multiple trails, lake views. Rated moderate. (1-2 hours)
Trails are like old friends.
Our favourite trail by far is Booth’s Rock. It’s been the ‘just right’ level of challenge, views and length; and it’s never been too busy with hikers to make it feel crowded. We return to it like an old friend.
This spring we planned our first trip of the season. The day started out rainy and grey. If I wasn’t dodging puddles and muddy sections, I was dodging glares from my friends. Who knew trails are more enjoyable for some when they’re dry? Haha.
We took it in stride and laughed it off. There was no turning back, and as they say, “Nothing grows in comfort zones.” Mother Nature isn’t one to guarantee comfortable conditions. I’ve always considered that part of the fun!
We introduced another lady to the tribe on this trip. Robyn hadn’t been to Algonquin either, so it was heartwarming to experience it again through fresh eyes. My hope is to get more women out enjoying the outdoors; even if it’s one by one.
My favourite thing about Algonquin was how much peace and calm it provided me. Being my first time there, I wasn’t sure that to expect. It surely didn’t disappoint! It reminded me of the beauty around us that we take for granted. My everyday life is busy and stressful at times (like most) so spending the weekend with my friends in the heart of the forest was simply spectacular. Can’t wait to do it again. – Robyn
Booth’s Rock Trail:
5.1km, multiple, great views. Rated difficult, but it’s not bad. (2 hours)
I read a quote in Instagram by @KylieFly this week that resonated loudly, “The right kind of dirtiness is probably a good kind of happiness.” Getting outside on trails, to me, is the right kind of dirtiness and it is most definitely a good kind of happiness.
Female friends often tell me they could never do what I do. I really want to change that mentality and help others grow to be more comfortable in natural environments.
Women can do it and I encourage you to try it. Explore Ontario trails on your own or with your friends. It may just change your life. It certainly changed mine.
Wild and Found
Did you have a similar experience as I did? Has getting outdoors helped you find life balance and reduce stress? Are you eager to get out on trails and want some tips? Share your story in the comments or send me a personal message! I’d love to hear from you!
Enjoy the photos? Find me on Instagram @WildandFound