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Trails Next Door Are Always There For Me

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Aug 24, 2021 06:21 PM |
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The way I hike has been altered drastically, but my enjoyment of nature is unchanged.

I used to climb mountains. It became something of a game for me to pick out the most challenging peaks, the longest and toughest backpacking routes, or the steepest ascent to do in a day. Sometimes it was the longest and fastest trail run, every second and turn recorded by my GPS watch that tracked my activities and cataloged them like trophies. I found enjoyment in the mountains that way, pushing myself as far as I could go.

mountain with glacier and open views
My friend Andrew during our ascent of Eldorado Peak in the North Cascades. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

Then something changed. The steep ascents and grueling multi-day backpacking trips no longer held the same allure. Where I once saw beauty and ruggedness in the work it took to get there, I only saw logistics. The time in the car, the bugs I'd be flapping my hands at, the ultralight meal that I'd slog through at camp to save weight in my pack. All these things became annoyances.

And I realized that's okay. That's the beauty of hiking: everyone can hike their own hike. I fell out of love with the intensity that had originally lured me to the mountains, but I found new joy in the green spaces and parks near my home. I still read trip reports showing people ascending peaks I'd climbed and sharing their GPS tracks with fondness, but it isn't for me. Not anymore.

At first, I grappled with the change. Was I quitting because it was hard? Was I lazy? Had becoming a parent changed how I saw the outdoors? In the end the answer came to me as I was walking through my neighborhood park. I didn't need to spend my time on the logistics, the planning, the half day of driving. Instead I could just walk out of my door at any moment, head down the street and be immersed in the same sort of nature that I'd found solace in before.

fall leaves on ground on trail
Spending time in my local park meant more time for photography and stopping to see the little things. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

It would be easy to look to the changes in my life during this time (having a daughter not least among them) for an explanation of this shift in outdoor thinking. But it wasn't that. I simply came to realize that my personal enjoyment of nature wasn't found that way anymore, and I'm honestly happier for it. I removed the aspects of hiking I didn't find love in and replaced them with ones I did: being immersed in greenery, breathing fresh air, views of the water, taking time for my photography.

But this shift in my outdoor enjoyment was and is only possible because I have green spaces near my home. Without them, I think a piece of me would have felt lost or adrift without a way to find the outlet in nature I sought. Which is why the work that WTA is doing with the Trail Next Door campaign is so important. Not everyone hiking in their local park is new to hiking, or doesn't enjoy the backcountry. Parks are for everyone, in all seasons, no matter what stage of their outdoor journey they're on. Mine just happened to be a little different than what I imagined.

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