CJ's Story

"When I was a kid I was always in the garden climbing trees or making fairy homes in the hollow of a mass of tree roots, or hunting for bugs. So when my best friend was killed when I was 14 my instinct was to retreat to the outdoors. At the time I found it impossible to process the feelings of grief, loneliness and anger and as a result I descended into the darkest time of my life. For years I battled with depression, never able to climb out of the hole, and falling into some very self-destructive behaviors. 

When I was 18 I left home and moved to the USA. I was running away from my life and the depression and pain, but it ended up being the best decision I ever made. Depression still haunted me but I discovered wild and wide open spaces full of nothing but alpine lakes, towering peaks and barely-trodden trails...and a sense of peace. 

          I wasn’t a hiker then, but I was a horse-lover. I worked on many guest ranches through Colorado and Wyoming, and these “angels without wings” gave me the opportunity to ride into some of the most amazing and unspoilt wilderness areas, and ever so slowly the darkest spaces in my my mind became smaller and took over less frequently... I didn’t even know it was happening until I looked back.

          When I sold my horses I had to find a way to still be able to access these wild and awe-inspiring places that kept my head in a good place. I was given some old backpacking gear and that’s when I fell in love with hiking into these wilderness areas on my own two feet, carrying everything I needed. And I did it with my two best four-legged friends who have made every trip I’ve done twice as rewarding; they may not appreciated the vistas or seeing a herd of elk like I do, but there is something amazing about sharing these experiences with another living being.         

Hiking (mostly backpacking) has given me the time my head needs to find balance and calm in a world I still struggle with...and still often want to run away from. Pushing myself to summit a mountain pass up a steep trail, and to absorb the view from the top, leaves no room for anything in my head except a feeling of accomplishment and peace. 

          Depression and anxiety still haunt me, but I’m better equipped to handle it now than when I was a teenager. And when everything gets too much I know that there is a beautiful world out there to explore and to help me restore my mental balance, and that’s when I get out to Spend More Time in the WILD."

What goals do have you in the future or are you currently working towards? 

"The first time I watched the movie Wild I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hike such a long trail (this was when I still had horses and hadn’t yet got into backpacking). Now, one of my goals is to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail and/or the Continental Divide Trail. There is something innately appealing about hiking through some of the most remote and beautiful landscape in the US for six months and having nothing else to think about but putting one foot in front of the other. Backpacking these trails has been on my dream list for a few years now but they are currently sitting on the back-burner while I enjoy the last few years I have to hike with my dogs as I can’t do such a long trail with them.

"Do whatever you need to do to take care of you. It’s okay to put yourself first. I moved to another country (which is a more extreme reaction than most self-care), but I did it because I had to put me first and get myself out of a place that had too many negative memories and was allowing the darkness to eat away at me from the inside. Self-care is the most important thing, and many of us neglect that. Take time to find out what fills you with a deep passion and fulfills your spiritual and mental needs."

So while I wait for the time to come to do one of these hikes I am focusing on doing the UK’s long trails with both my dogs while they still can...I can’t even imagine doing a trip without them. 

          I completed the West Highland Way in May and hope to do two more long backpacking trips, preferably in Scotland if the weather is favorable, and a handful of short trips before winter. I initially struggled with the lack of remoteness on hiking trails in the UK but the West Highland Way also showed me how to approach them with a different mindset and to enjoy them from a different perspective than I am used to, and I am looking forward to seeing and experience what the other UK trails have to offer."

What advice would you give someone facing a similar situation? 

© 2019 by Abbie Barnes | Song Thrush Productions. All rights included.

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