Editor’s note: Throughout October, our #hikeOctober guest writers share what hiking means in their lives. Today’s guest is Judy Gross, founder and owner of Lightheart Gear.
I hike for my mental health. As the owner of LightHeart Gear, I am always “at work”. Whether I’m at home or in the factory, my mind is occupied by the needs of the business, which can prove to be stressful. I NEED to get out in the woods, to expend energy walking, breathing in the scents of the trees, or better yet, the rotting leaves in the fall – scents that bring me back to my childhood growing up wandering through the woods, (alone, as a child). I’d climb trees, search under rocks for salamanders, and bugs. In late winter I’d look for the first snowdrops to poke their heads up, and in the early spring, my mother would teach me the names of the flowers.
The outdoors were my sanctuary – a place I could be alone and explore. I also grew up thinking the outdoors were a women’s sanctuary, that men didn’t go out in nature – I told this to someone recently (a man) and was laughed at – what little does he know – if you look at recent statistics, there are more women than men in many outdoor activities.
When you grow up, you gather all sorts of responsibilities into your life, things that usually keep you ‘busy’. I don’t have the luxury of hiking long distances now, so I have taken to running half marathons, but I have found my love is trail running – again, in the woods, listening to the birds singing in the spring, feeling the crisp cold mornings burning my nostrils in the deep winter, and the crunching of leaves under my feet in the fall.
I try to get out for a long distance hike once a year – I can manage about five weeks off from LightHeart Gear, but that’s it. Being in the woods saves my sanity, brings peace and quiet to my mind. The woods center and renew me.
When I started LightHeart Gear, I was a little embarrassed to tell people I made tent – this was after retiring from a career as a family nurse practitioner – but I have since come to view my new career as still being in health promotion, I help people get out in the woods with quality, lightweight gear, made in the USA. This in turn helps hikers to enjoy the outdoors and take care of their own mental health. There has been a lot of research lately showing the mental heath benefits of being in the outdoors. The conundrum is that when I’m out, I want to be alone, I don’t want others on the trail with me, yet, I’m always glad to see others enjoy the great outdoors too.
For now, I’m focusing the direction of LightHeart Gear on women’s clothing – clothing that is actually functional for hiking and backpacking in the outdoors. Women’s clothing that works. Why – because it just doesn’t really exist.
– Judy Gross
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!