Editor’s note: Throughout October, our #hikeOctober guest writers share what hiking means in their lives. Today’s guest is Amanda Moutsoulas who joined our annual Summit Mount Washington hike in August.
Before this past summer, I never hiked. In my entire 35 years, I had hiked exactly once, ten years ago, on New Hampshire’s Mt. Major, with my husband. I have spent much of my life battling intermittent depression, and even during the periods when getting out of bed wasn’t a struggle, I wasn’t what anyone would call “active.” That changed when a sudden, devastating loss led me to begin running in January.
At first, I ran in an attempt to escape all the wordless emotions inside my head and rid myself of the sensation I was about to explode. Later, running became about challenging myself to go a bit further or a bit faster each time, and I quickly began to enjoy the feelings of accomplishment and fitness. Six months after I began running, out of the blue, I was struck with a sudden desire to hike Mt. Washington.
I had never been to Mt. Washington before but being a New Hampshire native I knew the “home of the world’s worst weather” isn’t a place to tackle unprepared. Seeking information, I Googled “hiking Mt. Washington” and the very first result was the Hike for Mental Health 7th Annual Mt. Washington Summit page. I read all the information and signed up to join the hike at the end of August, spreading the word about the fundraiser and the reasons for it: to fund mental health research and to help end the stigma attached to mental illness.
The morning of the hike, the impressive group of hikers first held a moment of silence as we thought about the reasons we were hiking; not only the fundraiser, but reasons in our memories, reasons with names and faces. Some of us were hiking for veterans, some for friends or relatives who lost their struggle to achieve mental wellness, some for ourselves. My reason for hiking was represented by a watch he’d owned, clipped to a loop on my pack.
The hike was the most physically challenging activity I’ve done to date. By the final half mile, I had to talk myself into taking every step forward, reminding myself I’ve continued on through worse pain. I remembered the people and the cause we were hiking for and knew I had to be as strong as I would want them to be. By the time I reached the summit, I knew I was hooked. Hiking offered new friends, experiences, and goals.
Shortly after the Mt. Washington hike, I began to read about #hikeOctober and I was grateful I wouldn’t have to wait until next August to again join HFMH in hiking to raise awareness. October is my favorite month of the year. Early fall in New England brings an explosion of colors, a delicious smell in trees, and crisp things: apples, leaves, and the air. It also brings the sensation of things ending: the leaves fall to reveal barren trees, the year is coming to a close, the days grow steadily shorter until there is more darkness than light. It is easy to become tired and can be challenging to even get out of bed in the morning.
As much as I love it, hiking is another kind of challenge; not only in the physical sense, but also the mental. As I learned on Mt. Washington, when I’m hiking a mountain, it is easy to become tired and feel like what I’m carrying with me is too heavy or to be tempted to give up because I’m not sure I can make it all the way. The real challenge lies not in being at the top, but getting there; convincing myself to push on and take another step forward when I don’t believe I have it in me.
While the amount of effort it takes to get there may be great, so is the reward – finally reaching the summit and gazing at the view, the beauty I couldn’t see before because I was too far down. Realizing just how far the horizon stretches, how many different trails there are I can take to get where I want to be. With the view comes a feeling of utter freedom, of leaving worries and problems down below and far away for at least this moment in time. Then comes the feeling of pride and accomplishment in having not given up, in doing something I wasn’t sure I could, and to be standing above everything and saying, “I did it!”
In the words of Sir Edmund Hillary, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
– Amanda Moutsoulas
Click here to learn more about #hikeOctober, an annual program to raise awareness of the challenges of mental illness, fund mental health research and conserve wilderness trails. #hikeOctober is free to join, open to hikers with all experience levels, and an easy way to have your walk in the woods, or around the block, make an impact!