May is both my birth month and a time of transition (when the school year ends and summer begins). For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked forward to May and its potential for renewal.
This year I’m celebrating my 40th birthday and wanting to mark the occasion with extended time on trails. Specifically, I’m setting a goal to hike 40 miles on my own this month: miles that I’ll walk toward understanding how to be independent within interdependence.
Why This Gift?
What’s significant about this gift (and goal) isn’t the mileage. As I’ve written in previous blog posts, I crave time outdoors and along trails, so I hike regularly. Hiking is one of my primary means for doing self-work, for learning about my body, and for building resilience and courage.
Typically, however, I hike with other people and even rely on a partner to carry the hiking pack. What feels significant now—for marking my 40th birthday—is walking on my own. I’m now at a place of feeling ready—physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared—to “do it scared.”
For the past two years, I’ve been training to carry a backpack—strengthening my back and boosting my confidence that I can, in fact, carry weight without injuring myself. Many people carry backpacks, but this act has felt out of reach for longer than I can remember. Since my mid-teens, I’ve experienced back pain, and since graduate school, I’ve used a rolling bag to wheel items back-and-forth from school.
In the past year, since leaving academia and moving to DC, so much has changed, including that I now take myself on walks and carry weight on my back (instead of wheeling it behind me). I’ve purchased this teal backpack, which is becoming a trusted friend, and I’m learning the difference between pain and soreness, coming to appreciate tired back and shoulder muscles.
I’m deeply grateful to my back for teaching me so much: from ways to relate differently in the world to ways that the world needs to accommodate different bodies and embodied realities. I’m grateful, too, that my back has propelled me into a healing journey that involves looking at white fragility, internalized sexism and oppression, and a range of emotional states—the sort of self-work that hiking invites.
Currently, I’m experiencing a new wave of gratitude for what my back is able to do: to carry some weight (food, water, journal, jacket) so that I can take longer walks on my own. These walks allow for extended processing time—time to think through movement—which reminds me to prioritize self-work, redefining self-care.
Why 40 Miles?
Like 40-day practices, 40 miles symbolize to me the willingness to stick with something long enough to form a habit.
I’ve long known that time on trails—that is, time outdoors and in the natural world; time getting sweaty and wearing out my bodymind—is really important to me. It’s important for working with vulnerability, pushing beyond boundaries, knowing myself better, and much more.
I’ve wanted to make more time for hiking (walking on trails) since I transitioned from my work as a college professor, but starting a business can take hours upon hours upon hours. It’s only by prioritizing this desire to hike that I’ll take time each week for this activity of self-love. And I’m getting the message that practicing self-love can’t wait.
As I’ve shared previously, the phrase “we make the road by walking” has deeply influenced my approach to everyday living for justice:
“Truly, we make the road by walking. And as a hiker, I know that walking involves stumbles, falls, cuts, and scrapes—and also some of the most amazing experiences, views, interactions, and learning along the way. Walking builds strength and endurance, so the simple act of walking makes what was previously unimaginable (like climbing mountains or going long distances) possible.”
What might be possible if we push beyond what’s previously unimaginable?
If you’d asked me a few years ago if I’d be solo-hiking, I would have shaken my head in disbelief. Yet, here I am doing the previously unimaginable, thinking to myself that I want to IMAGINE—envision, embolden, and dream into being—much, much more.
My hope is that these 40 miles include steps toward possibilities that may take root and rise up in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.
May this month similarly provide you with steps toward healing and justice, on whatever trails, paths, or lifeways may be calling to you.
This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Beyond Self-Care: How Hiking Invites Self-Work” and “Appreciating Rahawa Haile’s ‘Going It Alone’ for the Hiking-Justice Connection.”
If you appreciate this site, if you connect with the storytelling, or if you use any of the recipes or resources, consider making a one-time or sustaining donation. Please also consider subscribing to posts and liking this blog on FB. Thanks!
Beth — A new friend here in Asheville is an African-American retired man. He, too, is celebrating his birthday this month. For HIS birthday month, he has committed to going places to be with people he normally wouldn’t spend time with … every single day of May. Darrell and I are having him come to our weekly mid-week gathering of friends who cook something on our grill and eat together, and he will meet up with Darrell at the Asheville Gun Show this weekend. Doing our bit for racial harmony 😉