At Hike the World, we believe in sharing stories about vulnerability, anxiety and depression and how nature and hiking can help ease the struggle of day to day life. We share stories about strong people who have felt lost and alone so that others feel safe enough to share their own struggles. Together, as a supportive hiking community, we can help each other through some of the darkest days.
We are excited to introduce the latest ambassador to the Hike the World family, Jen King. She came to us with raw honesty about her struggles. We were impressed by her willingness to share her story of anxiety and loss. We love her warmth and her dedication to showing others the benefits of nature and hiking. She has completed the 52 hike challenge and has hiked 12 different states in 12 months. A New Jersey native, Jen is passionate and adventurous and loves the kind of free-spirited community that hikers provide. We are thrilled for all of you to get to know her as we have.
Growing up, my dad always took me hiking and exploring. He loved spending time in the outdoors, and I'm grateful that he appreciated the tomboy I was growing into. We started hiking together when I was about 5, and by the time grade school field trips popped up for Pyramid mountain, I was a pro. My life from then on was filled with casual local hikes. Being outdoors became second nature.
A couple of years ago I hit a major turning point. I was in what was becoming an incredibly unhealthy home situation while working full time and obtaining my second bachelors in nursing. Throughout this, I was struggling financially to pay for my mortgage and school, and I was balancing volunteering and extracurricular school activities. I developed insomnia and my otherwise manageable anxiety turned into panic attacks almost every day. Devastation hit when my relationship (and what I thought was my future) ended... right before last semester of nursing school. Now during my boards preparation, I was also dealing with loss and moving. I was overwhelmed, depressed and lost. I had started hiking more through the process, but as a temporary escape to avoid my life.
It came to a head the day I took my NCLEX (nursing boards). I immediately left the testing center, packed a bag, picked up my dog, and drove to Acadia National Park in Maine. I even booked the cabin on the 10-hour drive up. I had never been so spontaneous, I had never traveled alone, and I had never gone anywhere with the intention of being so unreachable. We got there at night, and the next day my dog and I watched the sunrise over the ocean. A few hours later, I found out I was officially a nurse. For the next three days, I hiked every day for about 12 hours in the cold and snow (it was February). I pushed my physical limits, saw whatever I wanted to see and ate whatever I felt like. I didn’t have to worry about anything or anyone for the first time (with the exception of my pooch, as I am a very loving puppy mama). It was one of the best, most beautiful, and most soul discovering trips of my life.
When I came home, I brought back a much better version of myself with an intense desire to travel and adventure. My daily anxiety attacks stopped, my insomnia disappeared and for once I was excited to see what life had in store for me. More importantly, though, I could not wait to get back out into the world to see new places and hike new mountains. Hiking no longer was a sheltered escape from the hardships I was facing, but a welcomed self-exploration, a physical challenge and a minivacation from the every day that usually included beautiful views and whiskey.
Over the next two years, I was unstoppable as hiking became an integral part of my life. I completed the 52 Hike Challenge, with my hiking branching out to over 10 states including Alaska. As my passion for hiking grew, I was able to overcome the crippling social anxiety I had carried with me most of my life. Acadia was the first time I had traveled alone, and I went from being someone who needed to stay in a comfort zone with familiar friends, to someone who could be by herself and converse with anyone along the way. I took a solo hiking trip to Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California. I met up with 12 strangers (now close friends) to hike my ultimate bucket list hike, Havasupai. I was able to knock a lot of trails off my bucket list, whether solo or in great company.
The one thing I loved most about my hiking passion was that it introduced me to some great people and a phenomenal community. I quickly found and befriended quite a few people who also love hiking, and some who had gone through similar life-changing events and losses as I had. Hiking gave us the platform for building great relationships, to vent and talk and cry and laugh, all while physically challenging us and giving us beautiful sights to see at the same time. Finally, hiking also gave me my current relationship, one filled with understanding, support and adventurous fun that I could not be more grateful for.
At this point in my life, I am so grateful to have taken up something so physically and emotionally challenging. I no longer view hiking as an escape from life, but as an adventure with friends and an awesome community that gives me tons of laughs and great memories. It has become one of my life’s greatest pleasures to be able to share my adventures with others, to help them see the beauty life offers, give them memories filled with laughter, to push their physical limits when they doubt themselves, and sometimes to help them escape when they need it. And if they happen to bring beer or whiskey for the mountaintop view, all the better!
Eager for more of Jennifer's adventures? She will be providing us with updates as she spreads her love of the outdoors. You can also follow her on IG @jennalexluv. Interested in becoming an ambassador for Hike the World? Click here for more information.