Image by jsoubliere from Pixabay

In this excerpt from her book Hiking Your Feelings, author Sydney Williams encourages readers to take a hike and explains what can be gained from getting outside and experiencing nature… and it’s not all sore feet and blisters…. 


Throughout this article, I’m going to be encouraging you to go for a hike, and I want to be clear here: Please don’t think you have to take off on a grand hiking adventure like I did. If you don’t have access to hiking trails or if you’re just starting out and aren’t ready for a big hike yet, it can be as simple as walking around your neighborhood and building from there.

Maybe you have a different activity of choice like rock climbing, running, kayaking, fishing, gardening, riding your bike, or paddleboarding. Perhaps you’re where I was back in 2016, ass firmly planted on the couch but knowing you’re ready to take the next step.

The main thing is to move your body, somewhere outdoors, free from the distractions of this hyperconnected world we’re living in. At the very least, leave your headphones at home, save your favorite podcast for another day, and tuck your phone into your pocket or a backpack. By removing the points of connection to technology and the expectations of the society we live in, we can more clearly hear our inner voice and pay attention to the signals our bodies give us.


“Hike your own hike” serves as a reminder to honor your process. We all start somewhere, and if you’re brand new to this, like I was before my first trek on the TCT (Trans-Catalina Trail), I invite you to take an analytical approach to your first few hikes. Pretend you’re a scientist and each hike is an experiment. We’re just out here collecting data so we can make more informed choices in the future.

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This is helpful for everything, including trying out new gear, exploring new trails, and hiking with others. If you try on a pair of shoes and they’re uncomfortable, exchange them for the proper size. If you’re attempting a new (to you) trail and you find yourself running out of energy faster than you thought, make note of the distance that was comfortable for you and dial back the mileage on your next hike.

If you’re hiking with a group and find yourself pulling up the rear, back of the bus, last in line, resist the temptation to feel like you’re less than the faster hikers and revel in what your body is capable of.

On and off the trail, comparison is the thief of joy, and we can have a much more pleasant experience if we allow ourselves to move at our own pace, in our own way.


If you haven’t discovered this already, one of the things you’ll quickly learn is that hiking is a lot like life. There are ups and downs, twists and turns, moments of absolute bliss and beauty, and many moments of struggle. You can start to connect the dots between what happens on the hike and what is happening in life, reflecting on how the lessons learned along the way help you to blaze your own trail to self-love.

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, and we can only connect the dots backward, so we use the Trail of Life to understand where we came from, how we got to where we are today, and how we want to integrate our experiences in the future. In my time facilitating healing journeys in nature for folks from all walks of life, one thing has become clear: When you know where you’ve been, it’s much easier to move forward with an open heart.


We each carry an invisible backpack full of our experiences on this Trail of Life. I lovingly call this my trauma pack, and for the first three decades of my life, I had no idea I was carrying all of this extra weight. In fact, it wasn’t until I started backpacking in 2016 that I was able to slow down enough to tune in to my inner wilderness. As a result, I was able to feel the weight of everything I’d been avoiding. It was heavy.

We’re all walking around with our own traumas—and they can be triggered by many different things. There are activities and rituals that helped me unpack its contents and tools I used to lighten my load. Some of the items in my trauma pack are toxic relationships, body image issues, verbal and emotional abuse, suicide, cancer, sudden death, chronic illness, and sexual assault, to name a few.

The items in our trauma packs may be different, the weight of what you’ve been carrying hasn’t crushed you yet. No matter how heavy the load has been, I invite you to take off your trauma pack. Feel the burden lift from your shoulders. Roll out your neck. Unclench your jaw. Take a few deep breaths. Settle into a space that feels cozy and safe. You’ve made it this far. You can do this too.


Before any adventure, it’s good to do a gear check. There are countless websites, books, courses, and other resources that can point you in the right direction. In the world of hiking and backpacking, they’re all going to say approximately the same thing. You’ll need a backpack to carry everything for your journey, shelter, water (and/or a way to treat fresh water), food (and a way to prepare it), a sleep system, and the right clothing and footwear.

Noticeably missing from these packing lists and gear reviews are the skills you already possess that are critical for your enjoyment and success. You won’t find these items in the store but rather in your mind, body, and spirit:


When embarking on any new endeavor, self-judgment can run rampant if it remains unchecked. The antidote to judgment is curiosity. When things get hard and your inner critic starts barking orders and insults, take a few deep breaths and ask, “What does Little Me need right now?” When judgment rears its ugly head, tap into the curiosity that came easily as a child and watch your entire world transform.


As you embark on this journey, I encourage you to trust yourself above all else, even if you’ve never felt safe doing so. Trust the messages your body sends you when it hurts.

Trust your instincts if something on the trail or in your life sets off alarm bells. Trust your inner knowing about what is right for you at every moment.

One way to practice this on the trail is to listen to your body when you feel like you need to use the restroom. When you gotta go, you gotta go, and finding a way to relieve yourself instead of holding it is one of the quickest ways to reestablish the trust you have in not only your body’s signals but also your brain’s capacity to take action.


This process isn’t pretty. You’re going to make mistakes, say things you don’t mean, and probably lose some relationships along the way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished to go back to my prehealing days, blissfully ignorant of my pain and how it was impacting every facet of my life.

You can’t rush through this. You can’t heal everything all at once, nor should you try. Settle in, double up on your patience, and commit to the journey. You’re worth it.

Copyright 2024. All Rights Reserved.

Article Source:

BOOK: Hiking Your Feelings

Hiking Your Feelings: Blazing a Trail to Self-Love
by Sydney Williams.

book cover of Hiking Your Feelings by Sydney Williams.Join wellness advocate and wilderness guide Sydney Williams as she shares her healing journey from eating and drinking her feelings to hiking her feelings. When Sydney unexpectedly found herself diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, while grappling with grief and unresolved trauma built up over a decade, she set out on a quest to turn her pain into power. 

Two hikes across Catalina Island and eighty miles later, she learned to disconnect from distractions and reconnect with herself, all through the power of nature. Now, she’s encouraging others to get outside and blaze their own trail to self-love, turning buried traumas into healthy coping mechanisms. With affirmations, prompts, and reflection exercises throughout—all presented from Sydney’s supportive and self-effacing perspective—Hiking Your Feelings offers a toolkit to unpack your “trauma pack” and step into the best version of yourself.

For more info and/or to order this book, click hereAlso available as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of Sydney WilliamsSydney Williams is the founder of Hiking My Feelings®, a nonprofit dedicated to the healing power of nature.

Sydney has 15+ years of marketing experience and is a former competitive skydiver. She has been featured in HuffPost, Psychology Today, U.S. News & World Report, and on the SXSW stage.

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