How Hiking and Photography Saved My Life

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At 38 I lost my mom. She went to take a nap and never woke up. She was a breast cancer and stroke survivor. However, the radiation from the cancer treatments and decades of smoking  and poor diet led to congestive heart failure. They said her pace maker was still firing when the paramedics got there. She was gone.

She passed around 3 in the afternoon on a Friday and at just around the exact time she would have passed, my daughter, who was eleven at the time, suddenly came down with a very high fever. I did not know yet that mom was gone. I rushed Sarah to the doctor because it was alarming at how quickly this fever struck. It was literally out of nowhere. With the doctors unable to diagnose the issue, they sent us home and told me to keep a watch on her.  As we were getting ready to leave, my husband called the doctors office to give me the news.

I stood in the empty lobby at the phone on the wall as he told me she was gone. Stoic as always, I showed zero emotion. I had to keep it together. It is ALWAYS up to me to keep it together. Tears would come, but only when alone. I have always been that way. At the exact moment he told me, something very strange happened. I felt my own personal time speed up. It was like I was on a conveyor belt and moving up in line.  It’s also when change started to happen. Much needed change. That was 2004.

Over the next few years life would continue to throw curve balls at us. It was the one thing in our lives that was a constant since the day we were married. It had never been easy and it would stay that way.

As the kids started getting older and my husband had gone back to school to finally finish up his bachelor’s degree, I found myself consumed by family life and barely able to tread water. Working fulltime and doing just about everything else at home I was burned out and exhausted. Panic attacks became my best friend.  I began to realize the kids really didn’t need me as much and I started thinking a lot about my life and where I was and how I got there. Always, at the back of my mind, was that feeling I got when heard the news. That moving up the conveyor belt feeling. It was always there. I could feel it. Time was speeding up and I was running out of it.

2010–Dad is gone. The loss of my dad, six years after mom, caused an explosion. I suddenly felt like life as I had known it was completely over and I just wanted to run away and start over. There were many marriage and ‘almost grown kid’ issues and I was overwhelmed and confused. I still can’t believe I said the dreaded ‘I want a divorce’ sentence. But I did and he was stunned. Without going into all the details we did work through it. There were lots of tears and struggling to stay while simultaneously struggling to leave.

During this time I started walking regularly and taking pictures along my little city greenway.

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Taken with the Casio from my greenway.

 

I also started googling hikes and videos on hiking in Tennessee. I would ask my husband to go with me on hikes to which he always declined. So, one day I just decided I would go by myself. This one act of deciding to go alone completely changed the person I was.

I cannot put into words how going on my first, simple 2 mile hike alone gave me more confidence than anything else I had ever done. The first solo was to a waterfall called Burgess Falls.

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Burgess Falls State Park

 

I drove two hours from my  house to an area I had never been to. I remember being so nervous. Once on the trail I saw dozens of other hikers and even some other women hiking alone and I thought ‘Oh, it’s a thing! I’m not so weird then.’ I took some pictures with my little Casio point and shoot and hung around for awhile and then headed home. Changed forever and for the better.

 

 

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I still have it. This little camera means so much to me. I re-learned the basics of photography that I had learned years earlier in photography classes in college. I, at one time, had planned on being a photographer. But somewhere between getting married and having kids I had lost site of that. I had not tried to take actual pictures, not just snapshots, in years.

 

After that first hike I was hooked. Actually, I was obsessed. I started watching dozens of videos a day on hiking and then camping. I even found I enjoyed the survival videos as well. I was all consumed by the outdoors and photography.

I asked my husband for a Nikon for Christmas. Not an expensive one, but one that had more settings so I could really start to expand my photography knowledge. He got me a D3200. I absolutely loved this camera. Later, I got a D5400 that I still use today. I went nuts watching videos on how to do all types of photography. I joined two local photography clubs and even ended up winning one of the competitions. I was also taking some classes from various online sites from bloggers that I really enjoyed and sold some photos commercially.

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The hikes I have done both solo and with friends have increased in difficulty so much from that first hike to Burgess. I have camped now solo and do not hesitate for one second to strike out on my own and hit the trail. Some days I enjoy hiking with the small group of ladies that have since joined me, but some days I just want to go out on my own. It dawned on me how hiking has turned me into a fiercely independent woman. I wait on no one and have stopped placing expectations on people who do not share the same enthusiasm for the outdoors. I am talking about the husband. He will go on hikes now. However, he does not enjoy them and I can see it all over his face. So, we have come to an agreement that he knows I am doing this and I know he likes to sit at home and watch football, which I cannot stand. So, it works out. I am pretty sure he doesn’t even worry about me out there anymore.

I heard something several years ago and it was one of those ‘Ah-ha’ moments. And I remember thinking ‘YES!’ It was this paraphrased:  what a horrible thing it is to place our happiness on someone else’s shoulders. We hear things like ‘does he make you happy’ and ‘can you make him happy’ our entire lives and never question how either of those can even be possible. I remember feeling relieved that my happiness was entirely up to me. It was so freeing. It’s also something I wish had resonated with me in my twenties. It would have saved a lot of heartache.

Mary Oliver said it best:

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Taken at Dunn Overlook in Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness