A year ago I embarked on an ambitious hiking project. I had been feeling restless and realized in August 2018 that I was staring at middle age and living a rich life that had become rather routine, predictable, a tad dull and too comfortable. I sensed that it was time to shake things up.
The project was a formidable challenge for me – I had never been alone in the woods and hadn’t done any significant exercise for many years. I bought a hiking guide and as is my habit, enthusiastically, and blindly, leaped in. With zero experience on the trail and no idea what I was taking on, I aimed to hike all 60 treks outlined in Michael Haynes’ Hiking Trails of Mainland Nova Scotia in a year. Sure.
The project was inspired by my disquiet and by my cousin Jeff, who had just a few weeks earlier died from ALS. Jeff’s desire to move and live infused my steps as I trekked through the year. As I spent hours in the woods and along the coasts, reflecting on the nature of life and living, I kept returning to the importance of embracing what we have while we have it. The project forced me to slow down and listen: to the world around me, to my body and to myself. As with grief, the journey has been unpredictable and challenging. I have had to struggle through uncertainty and doubt, challenge my concepts of success and failure, and look honestly at who I am, not who I perceive myself to be. It has been a glorious year… and a difficult one, often framed by beauty and comedy.
After a year on the trails, I am very glad to report that I have not even come close to completing the 60 hikes in this project. I can see the half-way mark just up ahead and I am confidently striding towards it, but decided along the way to slow down and embrace the path, not just the finish line. The extra time and space have permitted me to incorporate new challenges of my own, such as doing a solo hike overnight, and to save hikes for the future. Am still shocked that along the way winter became my favourite season to be outside. Wow.
While not usually a fan of social media, I have been documenting each hike on my blog, Trailingspirit.com. This has become a wonderful opportunity for me to seriously examine and process the experiences I have had on the trail; it is an honest look at the challenges and revelations I have faced on this journey. I frequently get lost, things rarely go as planned, and mayhem often ensues when I am hiking. I also have learned to be still and connect to myself and the natural world, to feel proud and grateful when a hike has been completed and a heavy pack removed, and to enjoy the sound of crunching through snow, my tracks the only human ones ahead. And a year in, I am still amazed that each hike brings with it new joys, wisdom and ways of seeing.
The project continues, its parameters having changed – it will keep going until it is done. I am excited to enter another year, knowing that there is much to see and learn on the trails ahead. Thank you Nova Scotia, for your natural beauty and teams of volunteers that keep the trails alive. I am so very grateful for your labours and your support, as you have made this life-altering adventure possible.
By Stephanie Dean-Moore, Trailing Spirit