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How I Learned to Enjoy Dream Destinations Close to Home

Well dang it. I missed out. Do you ever get that feeling? That regret? I do.

I lived in North Carolina for almost ten years. You would think that would be plenty of time to do everything I could possibly want to do there. It wasn’t. I wanted to go hiking in the Smoky Mountains, a short two hours from my house. I didn’t. I wanted to ride horses down North Turkey Creek Trail in Umstead Park, which was just around the corner. I didn’t. The list goes on, and all I have to say for myself now that I live on the other side of the country is… Dang it!!

Looking back, I have to say I wonder why it was so hard for me to get around to doing the things that were practically in my backyard. I would spend months planning trips to exotic, faraway places and still miss doing the just as awesome thing that was right in front of me. Was it just the fact that it was always there that made me less motivated to go?

Now I live a couple thousand miles away, and those cool things that were around the corner are the exotic, far-off places that I would have to spend months planning to visit. However, instead of dwelling on the dang its of my past, I have been finding ways to make sure I don’t have any more in the future.

I Looked Around and Made a List

Something I’ve realized from moving across the country is that every area has it’s charming places. Its spots around the corner that are too good to miss, and I am bound and determined to find those spots near my new home. I find them online using social media groups and sites like Free Arenas, I hear about them from locals, and I find them through my own exploration.

Every time I find a new spot, I jot it down on my list. I keep a list digitally in my phone, and another taped to my mirror where I can always see it. There is something motivating about seeing a list of what I want to do every day. I find myself using the items on the list to fill spaces of time that may otherwise have been horribly wasted.
A few weeks ago, on a Sunday afternoon I had a few hours to kill. Looking at my list I noticed one entry that had been up there for months, “Hike R Mountain”. I knew the drive to the mountain would take a couple minutes, and the hike a couple hours. I grabbed my best friend and we set out on that chilly afternoon.

It was a beautiful hike up what turned out to be a long extinct volcano, and I marveled that I hadn’t come before.

After the hike, instead of a dang it, I had a memory, some wonderful photographs, and a check off my list.

I Made a Schedule

Seeing how well hiking R Mountain fit into a Sunday afternoon, I tried looking at other empty spaces in my schedule to fill. Noticing a free Saturday a few weeks out, I wrote in something that would take longer than a few hours, “Visit Craters of the Moon.”

The scheduled Saturday arrived, and that morning I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, but seeing it on the schedule awoke some motivation in me. I looked at myself in the mirror, and told myself, “I said I’d go, so I will.”

Seeing Craters of the Moon was an other worldly experience, a step into outer space. The stunning hiking trails and fascinating caves were something unique. Something that I was glad I didn’t miss.

Having this on the schedule helped me make time for an activity that I otherwise would have missed. It gave me time to have an out of the world experience.

I Created a Reward

After a long day of typing away at a computer, I couldn’t seem to motivate myself to finish this project. It was at about that time that I got a call from my parents. “We are going camping in West Yellowstone this weekend, would you like to join us?” Would I? I looked at my list, and yes camping in West Yellowstone was definitely on there.

I told myself, “If I finish this project. I can go camping.” This glimmer of hope helped me trudge through the rest of my mundane project, and I was able to go on the camping trip. I saw the stars more clearly and sharply than I ever knew they could be and said to myself, “Now this is a reward.”

Using the activities on my list as a reward works sometimes. It helps me look forward to the activities with excitement and anticipation, and complete less desirable tasks that life demands I do. Other times, instead of using these activities as a reward I use them as an escape.

I Took a Break

As a human, I can tell you that my life sometimes feels mundane. I feel stuck in the patterns, and have a need to escape to the wilderness. I have found that looking to my list for a means of escape has brought me a newfound sense of freedom.

There was one particular week where I felt like I was a broken record, playing the same day on repeat. As I brushed my teeth one morning, my eyes fell on my list. I noticed “Visit the Saint Anthony Sand Dunes”. I smiled, thought through my day, realized nothing on my to do list was vital, grabbed my roommate and drove to the sand dunes.

We spent the afternoon with our feet sinking in the sand. We walked up and rolled down the dunes. When the afternoon was over we watched a spectacular sunset, and I thought about how life is so not mundane.

I Found a Friend

I have found that the desire I have to explore and escape is one I share with many of my friends, family members, and roommates. After spending a few months in my new home, I noticed that my best friend and I had a lot of the same places on our list. We started planning to explore these locations together.

I noticed how quickly I began to gather pictures, memories, and checkmarks on my list. My best friend and I motivated each other to get out of the house and go around the corner. It was wonderful to have someone who was just as excited I was to get out there.

Seeing her list added places to my list. We hiked, camped, kayaked and bonded. We explored the spots around every corner, only to discover new corners. I noticed that I was falling in love with my new home. I was pining less for the dang its of my past.

I Created Scarcity

After all of my exploration, I still notice that the best motivation to get out there is scarcity. There is something inside me that always knows that the amazing spot around the corner might not always be there.

I create scarcity for myself using a variety of methods. For some activities I consider the fleeting days of warmth or the melting snow. The weather can be a great motivation to explore now. After all, I don’t want to wait until next year to go skiing for the first time.

Another method I use to create scarcity is the realization that life is short. I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I don’t know if I will always live in the same place, or be able to hike a mountain. I don’t know if I will always like kayaking, or have my Sunday afternoons free, but what I do know is I can visit the place around the corner now.

If I could shout any piece of advice to the people who’ve missed out on the spots around the corner, it would be make a list of places to go, remember those places might not always be there and go.

Going to the places around the corner has given me a new home and a feeling of constant adventure. My list gets longer as time goes by, no matter how many places I visit. I have found favorite spots and spots I never want to go again. I have strengthened relationships and made memories. But, most importantly, I find myself saying dang it a lot less.

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The Beginner Jitters: How to Start ANY New Sport

There I was, at the bottom of a huge rock wall watching my husband’s feet as he scurried up it like a spider, barely touching each handhold before bouncing to the next. He was at the top in seconds. It had to be easy right? I started my climb up the exact same wall, and after several painstaking minutes I fell… a whole six feet.

Did my husband laugh at me? No. At least not externally. Was he judging me? No. Was I embarrassed anyway? Oh yeah! Did I want to go rock climbing with him ever again? No way!

Being a beginner standing next to someone who could do what I couldn’t (and could probably do it blindfolded) was intimidating. It made me not want to try again, despite how much I liked climbing those six feet.

Overcoming those beginner jitters was not an easy task, but there are some things I discovered that helped me through it.

1. Begin at the Beginning

The first thing I discovered, that I just had to be ok with, was that beginners begin at the beginning. A shocking revelation right? For some unknown reason I looked at rock climbing differently from any other learned skill. I was young and fit. I should be able to do this right? Wrong.

If I wanted to learn to paint, I wouldn’t expect myself to sit down and paint a masterpiece the first time. I would expect to paint something that looked like someone who had never painted before painted it.

I had to realize that rock climbing was the same, a skill to be learned over time. I couldn’t instantly go from zero understanding of the sport to scaling cliffs. That was an unreasonable expectation. I had to get over this expectation and tell myself (more than just once), “It is ok to be a beginner who begins at the beginning.”

2. Find the Right Place to Start

After I lowered my expectations of myself to something more reasonable, I had to figure out exactly where the beginning was. I had to understand what my body and skill level could handle.

I wish I could tell you that the next wall I tried was easier. Everyone at the gym told me this was one of the easier walls. But, after several attempts that ended in falling, I concluded that they must be lying.

I liked climbing enough that I wanted to work up to climbing those walls, but I knew I couldn’t start there. I began exploring other options, and found somewhere to start.

That was when I discovered the wonderful thing that was bouldering. The great thing about bouldering is that boulders are typically shorter structures. Perfect for someone who couldn’t make it past the first few feet of any wall.

Practicing on boulders increased my strength and my love for climbing. Each time I tried it climbing became easier and more attainable. It seemed like I might not be completely hopeless after all.

3. Find a Mentor

A few months later (Yes, it took me months) my husband and I took a trip to City of Rocks. We climbed over boulders and up some easier rocks. This trip made a couple things very apparent to me. First, that I was absolutely in love with rock formations. I mean, wow, this place was cool. Second, I wasn’t gonna get anywhere without a mentor.

I was about halfway up a rock formation, when I got stuck. I had no idea where the next handhold was, and I was starting to panic. My husband offered me his help, which I quickly and snapplily declined. Then I clung there, in the same spot, until my arms ached.

After I began shaking I knew I needed a little help. So, I swallowed my pride. Well, more accurately, I choked on it and asked my husband for help.

My husband kindly offered advice from above me, and I made progress. It was in that moment that I realized the value of listening to someone who has already been where you are. Not only had my husband climbed these rocks just moments before me, but he had, however long ago, been a beginner too.

After I reached the top, my husband and I agreed that he would be my new mentor.

It wasn’t easy having a mentor. There were days I felt self conscious about him witnessing my lack of skill, and other days I wanted to insist I knew what I was doing without his help. I choked on my pride many times, but I kept on choking because I could see improvement.

For me, the most wonderful thing about having a mentor was not the advice, but the support. He cheered me on, whether I succeeded or failed and after a time I realized he wasn’t the only one.

4. Join a Community

I noticed that people who frequented the rock gyms we went to started to become our friends. They cheered for my success and shared their own stories of success and failure.

When you learn a new sport, you aren’t just learning a sport. You are joining a community.

As I grew more advanced, I began searching for other ways to find advice and new climbing spots. A quick internet search lead me to local rock climbing groups on Facebook and other social media sites. The online support and information became crucial to me as I began integrating myself into this community. I noticed how friendly people were, and how some people seems as excited by me learning their favorite sport as I was to learn it.

5. Achieve a Goal

I had come a long way. I really had. To go further, I needed something to work towards. I needed a goal.

A few months after I started climbing, I sat there at a notebook. With a pencil in hand I tried to find a goal to set for myself. Where did I want to be in six more months? What did I want to accomplish?

My mind wandered back to that first wall. Just the thought of it made me gulp with fear and blush with embarrassment. Somehow that natural reaction made it very clear to me that that should be my goal. In six months, I would go back and climb that first wall.

After a lot, and I mean a lot, of practice, I found myself standing at the bottom of that first wall, six months later. I began climbing as my husband and mentor cheered me on and called up advice. When I made it past the first six feet I smiled. It took me a couple of tries, and a lot longer than my husband’s few seconds, but I made it to the top and I was elated.

As I bounced back down, I couldn’t help but think back at the moment that gave me my beginner jitters. Those were gone now, and I was so glad that I was able to take control of them before they controlled me.

It was a process. I had to realize it was ok to be a beginner who begins at the beginning, to find a place to start, to humble myself enough to listen to a mentor, to join a community and to set goals. But I made it, and now I look forward to being a beginner again as I try more new sports.

I still constantly have to say to myself, “It’s ok to be a beginner who begins at the beginning.” This is just something I have to tell myself when I have the beginner jitters. Don’t be afraid to tell that to yourself as you start out in your new sports.

That’s the key. Be ok with being a beginner, find a place to start and just start.

Get Started Now

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10 Reasons why you should never, ever, ever try Mountain Biking. Not even once.

Moab is a name that is comfortably tossed around in the American mountain bike scene, and riders of all experience and skill levels seem to view it as a destination of world-class riding. With endless sandstone and iconic Utah slickrock, Moab is undeniably a dream for most riders, but on a recent trip to the mountain bike mecca I had an experience that I am still trying to get a grip on. Our small group of 2 spent the first 10 miles of the day speeding down blue/black diamond trails near Canyonlands National Park. We weren’t (and aren’t) the best riders around and were still fairly new to the game, so we didn’t take into consideration the mountain biker laws of gravity-who rides down must pedal back up. It was in these lung-busting 10 miles on uphill singletrack back to the car that I had time to think about my love for mountain biking. I decided that the love was false, that I hated mountain biking, and whoever told me “mountain biking is fun” was a masochistic liar. I thought about the many reasons to never get into mountain biking and would like to share them with you, so you never get caught 10 miles down trail.

1) You will develop an attachment to dirt

The average human being goes to great length to avoid being dirty. Normal people consider pavement, concrete, and even grass fields pathways of haven sent from the skies that keep precious brand-name shoes and jeans from making contact with the unholy material. Mountain bikers? We are a class of our own, thriving on an inherently dirty activity and loving every loose, dirt-filled turn; anything but normal. Even worse, mountain bike long enough and you will become a dirt snob, believing that some dirt is “better” than others (because it iswhich is a fact). You will complain and complain that some dirt is just too dry, too loose, too wet, or even too clean and without enough loose dirt, while you chase the leader of the pack: hero dirt, the illusive perfect combination of dry and wet, loose and compacted. A dirt snob is what you will become, or maybe you prefer dirt connoisseur. If you haven’t jumped ship yet then read on, there are plenty more reasons why riding a bike off the beaten path is a terrible mistake.

2) You won’t be able to stay inside when the weather is rotten

Photo courtesy of Jay Johnson

Even worse than loving being covered in dirt is being covered in thick mud, head to toe. Mountain biking will systematically ruin the excuse that you can’t go outside when it’s too rainy, too cold, or too…terrible out. Mountain bikers have a sick affection for riding in conditions that are borderline un-ridable, and this will leave you yearning for some wild turns down the local trails. If you need to hose off in the yard before you enter the door of your home, then it was a day done right.

3) Say goodbye to intact shins

Attend any mountain bike event anywhere with at least 10 people and 9 of those 10 will have bloody shins. It’s as if pedal manufacturers designed flat pedals to allow for maximum grip while dealing maximum tissue damage. You can never walk around town in shorts again unless you want the casuals to stare at your scarred legs like they just witnessed a horrific train wreck. And forget about wearing white socks ever again in your new life of mountain biking. Instead, buy a $25 pair of flashy cycling socks…the price makes them easier to get the blood out of.

4) Say hello to scrapes and bruises everywhere

I take the latter back-people will always stare at you because you’re a mountain biker now, and a requirement of riders is to have badges of honor in the forms of scrapes and bruises somewhere on the body at all times. Friends and loved ones will be concerned when they see you like this and only be dumbfounded when you reply with, “Oh this? I’m a mountain biker now. This is nothing, you should see (insert the name of the friend who crashes more than you here)”. Because if you’re not crashing then you’re not riding hard enough, right? Mountain biking is an abusive relationship between human and bike, but you will find any excuse to ignore that and even take some pride in riding hard.

5) You will do a lot more reading…and we’re not talking novels

It’s common knowledge that reading is good for you, it keeps the brain sharp and interactive with different stories. Everyone wishes they had more time in their life for reading, whether for that new novel or long historical piece, but finding the time is difficult with families, full-time jobs, and different hobbies. The good news is that mountain biking will deliver much more reading to your life! The bad news is that the reading you will be doing won’t be in that new novel you were excited about. All of your reading will consist of new bike reveals and reviews, gear reviews, different sales going on, and anything and everything that’s new in the mountain bike world. Because your free time is being used riding bikes there will be even less time to read, so much of this reading will be done in hidden internet tabs at work or at home on the phone when attention should be paid to the dinner on your plate, because you just must know how the new knee pads feel when pedaling even though you know you’re never going to buy them.

6) You will start to crave suffering

In the recent trip to Moab that I shared at the beginning of this article, I whole-heartedly agree that we were suffering in the 10 miles of steep singletrack we had to pedal up. With that being said, about a week later I forgot how bad everything hurt and just remembered the fun 10 miles of downhill. A week later I was back in class at my school, sitting for lectures, studying all day, thinking about how great it felt to be outside and moving with my muscles sore because they were growing stronger. Even though we suffered for 10 miles, I would happily ride there again. It takes some adjustment, but soon after starting mountain biking all riders will start to enjoy the uphill rides and take pleasure in some suffering because it feels good to get stronger.

7) Your new fashion sense will be questionable at best

Riding gear and clothing comes in all shapes and colors and yes, most of everything comes in a neutral color like black or gray, but black and gray don’t “pop” when you’re out on the trail. You may start off with these flat colors, but mountain bike long enough and I’d say 90% of your riding kit will be some sort of neon primary color-helmet, bike, and riding glasses/goggles included. Admit it, when riding down trail it’s much cooler to speed past in a blur of baby blue and white on a lemon-yellow bike than in just gray and black. This fact will lead to more neon purchases regardless of if any of the kit matches or not. Couple this with the next fact that riding clothing will eventually take over your casual wear and it is a recipe for a new life of questionable fashion.

8) You will become more stubborn

Just like starting to enjoy suffering when out on the trail, mountain biking will make an easy-going person stubborn or an already stubborn person more so. In a way, it’s a requirement to get better at riding. You will inevitably come across trails that have a hill that’s too steep, too long, or has too many features on the way up. You may encounter obstacles that at first are too big or exposed, but eventually these climbs and features will seem manageable and the only way you’re going to convince yourself to ride them clean is by saying, “I can do this” and willing yourself through it. Once you ride something that you initially thought you could never do, the stubbornness and confidence will only increase, escaping into other aspects of your life.

9) You will start to speak in MTB and few will understand

Fox 34 CTD Fork. Photo courtesy of Glory Cycles

The world of mountain biking (MTB) is sort of like a secret land of fairy tales-we spend a lot of time in dark, green forests and picturesque mountains, riders are covered head-to-toe in strange, bright clothing, and when mountain bikers talk to each other around non-riders, few will understand what we are saying. Like any other technical activity, there are words that apply only to mountain biking and have no use in day-to-day conversation. Because of this, there will be a lot of confusion between riders and non-riders and even those who are new to the mountain bike scene. The longer you ride bikes the worse this language barrier is. If you don’t yet know what it means when someone mentions low and high-speed compression damping in a Fox 34 CTD fork (hint: the fork is above) or why mountain bikers shiver when you use the numbers 2 and 9 in the same sentence, then you understand this struggle. Ride more and all will become clear!

10) Your new hobby will turn into more than just a hobby

Photo courtesy of Jay Johnson

Everyone has different reasons why they started mountain biking, but regardless of the reason I’m willing to bet that everyone started riding as a hobby, just something fun to spend some free time in. Whether you want it to or not, ride long enough and mountain biking will become less of a hobby and more into a lifestyle. It takes over the clothes you wear, how you talk, how you spend weekends, who you hang out with in the evenings, and sometimes even careers! As much as this isn’t what you intended when you agreed to try mountain biking, it’s a lifestyle of fast speeds, fitness, and many friends, and we think it is all worth it.

As many reasons as there are to never try mountain biking, I love it and messing around on two wheels with good friends will always be my favorite thing to do outside. So in the spirit of mountain biking, go riding! You won’t regret it!

Mountain Biking Trails Near You


“Get a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live.” Mark Twain

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Activities for the Non-Athletic Adventurer

I have this friend: super athletic, loves being outside, goes on 18-mile hikes for fun, naturally good at sports he has never played before, and is always trying to get me to join a game of ultimate frisbee. Know the type? Hang around this guy and it’s easy to feel like you’ve got to be a triathlete to enjoy the outdoors.

But the truth is, you don’t have to be athletic to spend time outside. In fact, much of what people do inside can be done outside, like walking, sleeping, laying down, waiting around … the list goes on.. It’s not about straining yourself, it’s about being in the sunshine and fresh air.

Hiking Walking Outside

The best thing about hiking is that it’s not difficult unless you want it to be. Hiking is the perfect introduction to the outdoors because many offer the best views of waterfalls, lakes and valleys, and many don’t require much work at all on your part. It also comes with some surprising health benefits. Besides vitamin D and the obvious work out bonuses, hiking can actually improve balance and reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. There are plenty of short and sweet hikes that will get you excited about being in nature.
Find hiking trails near me


Swimming reduced the stress impact on your body, meaning you can swim at a high intensity without feeling tired or sore. Or you can just swim around and basically just hang out in the water. You’ve likely been doing it since you were a kid. All you need is a bathing suit (usually ;)), a few friends and one of these swimming holes/hot springs. No crazy workout required.
Find swimming holes near me

Camping Sleeping Outside

Camping is essentially sleeping, but you get to do it outside under the stars after a night of sitting around the fire and roasting marshmallows. The glow from a campfire increases melatonin in your body, making sleep even easier and more peaceful than usual. Going camping is peaceful, quiet and gets you acquainted with the outdoors. It doesn’t have to be traditional camping, either. If you prefer to have the conveniences of home, you can set up shelter in the backyard or go glamour camping (glamping) to get some peace and quiet while feeling like you’ve never left home.
Find campsites near me

Floating a River Laying outside…on a river

Sun-tanning has never been so relaxing. Float a river with a huge group of friends or go it alone to get some peace and quiet. It’s one of the easiest things you can do outside, and it’s been known to reduce back and neck pain while improve spinal alignment. But not all rivers are slow and steady, so keep in mind if you’re after a relaxing float, you’ll want to find one without rapids or sharp turns. And make sure you have good music to keep you company during the slower stretches!

Fishing Waiting outside…for a fish

Fishing is notorious for helping people clear their minds. Because it requires you to focus on one thing, it distracts you from internal conflict, reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Or you can chat with some buddies, read or draw while waiting for the pole to budge. All you have to do is cast your line and wait for something to bite. You might even get a meal out of it.


Now this one is a little more involved, but not by much. Just because it’s snowing out doesn’t mean you have to stay inside! It’s easy to feel like you have to stay inside during the cold winter months, but without some fresh air, you’ll start to go stir crazy! Sledding is the best way to get your blood pumping enough to enjoy the snow and keep you from getting cabin fever. Not to mention being exposed to full-spectrum light while in the sun gives you a great energy boost for other winter activities.

Find sledding hills near me


These are just ideas to get you started. It’s not ultimate frisbee or a triathlon, but it’s enough to help you appreciate some sunshine and a little fresh air. The world has lots to offer, and it doesn’t have to cost any money, and it definitely doesn’t have to be hard. Whichever activity you decide, don’t let fitness keep you from enjoying what’s outside your front door.

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Tell Anxiety to “Take a Hike”

As long as I can remember, I have always been an anxious person. I was always a nervous kid. I would cry when my parents left for their dates every Friday night. I was nervous when we would do family activities where someone could potentially get hurt. My heart would race when I had to do something new or unfamiliar. My mind was always overthinking.

I thought I grew out of it around age twelve, but when I attended college, during my final semester, my anxiety re-presented itself. I was taking 18 credits, working a part-time job, working an internship, leading my collegiate DECA organization, and I moved three times. My anxiety skyrocketed and I felt lost, broken and alone.

The one thing that always seemed to help get rid of that anxiousness throughout my life, was going on hikes, getting fresh air, making and taking time for myself. It has always been a time for me to clear my mind. As I have learned more about taking control of my mental health, I have found that hiking has more benefits than I had originally thought. Here are three things that I have learned:


Stress is normal. But when it comes to mental illness, stress drags you down more than it does to other people. I have found that when I am more stressed, it triggers my anxiety.

When you make your body move and and elevate your heart beat, your body releases endorphins in your brain. Endorphins act as your body’s natural painkiller and higher levels of it can increase your ability to sleep better.

I know that when I sleep better, my stress levels decrease and I am able to function better. I can face life head on.


Anxiety is a constant nagging feeling of worry and nervousness, usually about something that is going to happen with an uncertain outcome. When you deal with increased anxiety or anxiety disorder, you typically cannot place where that worry or nervousness is coming from. Your mind and your body is consumed with this fear of something unknown.

Often, the best way to get out of the funk of it all is to just move. When your body feels better, so does your mind. Moving your body can help release that feeling of being trapped. Releasing those endorphins can kill that pain and worry that you feel.

Hiking will take you to a place that is new and will focus your mind on something else rather than your anxiety. It will allow you to take those obsessive thoughts and nagging emotions and put it toward helping your body.


When your body feels good, so does your mind. When you work and move your body, it releases dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that send signals to other nerve cells. It plays a major role in making you feel happy.

When you take time out of your day to spend time on yourself, and allow yourself to take a break from work, drama, or chores, you will feel more free and open. Allow yourself that time for self-discovery and find out who you are when you aren’t doing everything else. Think about a movie, listen to a podcast or just enjoy nature and allow yourself to feel happy.

Everyone deals with stress and anxiety, some people more intensely than others. But moving your body helps your mental health no matter how intense it is or not.

Do research on good hikes near you. If you aren’t comfortable with the hiking trails near you, walking around the block or around a park can be just as rewarding. If you’re new to hiking, start with some small hikes somewhere that’s comfortable. You may want to speak with a doctor to know where you can start.

Hiking is just one of many ways to improve or overcome mental health issues. If you need to take medication, do so. Doing all you can to take control of your mental health will put you ahead of the game.

You are not alone in wanting to improve your mental health. Many people are taking time to take care of themselves and going on hikes to help take control. What are you waiting for?