About the Author: Kellie Stewart is a wife, mother of four, home educator, quilter, watercolorist wanna-be, photography enthusiast, and lover of animals, among so many other things.  She has enjoyed camping for a lifetime using everything from an old, canvas, military tent as a child, for both camping and play, to a travel trailer, and now, a backpacking tent.  She wanted to hike and backpack for many years before actually taking more than a short walk around a mountain lake while the men folk fished. She would like to encourage other ladies, who think they can’t, to get up and hike.

My hiking journey literally began with a walk to the mailbox.  I was unfit. Years of being too busy to care for myself while caring for our home and children led to a body whose shape I did not recognize.  I was out of breath and achy all the time, every time. Go do something, they said. You’ll feel better, they said. They say a lot of things. I couldn’t.  I wasn’t lazy as some believed. I was sick. After our fourth child was born, things just didn’t go back to normal for me. I was exhausted and needed a lot of sleep.  I talked to the doctor, and he replied, “You chose to have four children.” In reference to my fatigue, the next doctor said, “What did you think would happen after having a fourth child and deciding to home school them?”

I’ll tell you what I thought.  Three of my grandparents had eight to ten siblings each.  Those great grandmothers had babies, nursed them, tended them, slopped hogs, washed clothes in a black iron pot in the back yard heated with wood they chopped, milked the cow, and tended the garden to feed all those children.  They didn’t nap all day. They worked sun up until past sundown, and then they tended sick children who awoke in the night with a stomach virus but couldn’t give them a bath in a nice warm indoor bathroom. No, they had to heat water on a wood stove to bathe the babies.  Four children is not too many and should not cause the kind of fatigue I was experiencing. My marriage was just fine, too, thank you very much. The list of symptoms grew. There was pain, the ordinary kind, but also weird pain that burned or felt electrical in nature. I had problems with walking, speech, vision, hearing, and thinking.  I was tested for Lyme, Lupus, and everything in between before they finally thought it was MS. It took nine years, five medical doctors, three eye doctors, and two neurologists to find out that I had a severe B12 deficiency. Mama said that once upon a time, the doctors always put new mothers on B12. I no longer retrieved the mail, which had been a highlight of my day between tending four children, a moment to myself without anyone asking questions, needing wiped, or wanting a taste of my food.  My driveway is about three car lengths long but was too long for my fatigue. It took a eighteen months of B12 shots to begin to feel normal. In those intervening years, I became fluffy and sedentary.

It was a process.  I really did start with walking to my mailbox.  Perhaps it is just the right beginning exercise for you, too.  I added parking farther and farther away from the store entrance.  I walked in place watching the news or when brushing my teeth. I exercised in my bedroom so that no one would see.  I saw posts from friends who were walking and running 5K’s. Facebook can bring joy or strife in our lives, but on this occasion it brought good things.  It allowed me to reconnect with an old friend of days gone by after he had conquered his beasts. Mickey posted two pictures of himself side by side. One of a pudgy, middle-aged Mickey beside one of a new Mickey recovered from things of his past including the pudge.  That second one was of him running, fit, strong, and happy. It struck me. He said that if he could do it, anyone could do it. I believed him. One thing led to another and a few ladies were planning and training while encouraging one another through Facebook posts making ready for a Disney 5K.  I started walking my neighborhood, just my short street at first, and trying to lose weight. In a few weeks, I could walk my short street three times in a row. Before long, I left my street to go a little farther. I was still quite fluffy, but I was headed in the right direction. There was no way I was running anywhere unless someone or something was chasing me, but maybe I could walk fast enough to do a 5K.

Then, Daddy was suddenly in the hospital fighting for his life.  He had been unwell for most of his life going down hill a bit at a time.  He had once sang in a gospel quartet but had not really been able to sing in years.  I missed the music. He would often wake my brother and me early on Saturday morning singing.  Sounds pleasant, but I’m not really a morning person. As pretty as his voice was, this was not gentle, melodious music wafting through the home.  Nope. It was loud and abrupt. If Daddy wasn’t sleeping, no one was sleeping. There were chores to be done. When I arrived at the hospital, Daddy actually looked pretty good.  Not at all how I have seen him before when he had pneumonia. In spite of the pneumonia shots, he took ill with pneumonia fairly often. This time, he went to the doctor early. That was a good sign.  

The good signs ended abruptly the next morning.  I spend the next twenty-one days taking turns with my brother so that he would not be left alone again.  The night nurse made mistakes that almost cost Daddy his life on the first night in the hospital. I stayed days.  Kevin stayed nights. We only left him alone that first night when he would not allow us to stay and one other partial night.  In a few days, Daddy had a heart attack. Due to the pneumonia, he could not be fully assessed nor treated for the heart attack.  He had a second heart attack before he was strong enough to undergo a heart cath. It was on that partial night he was left alone in CCU.  I had just gotten home and gone to bed when he called to tell me he was having another heart attack. I rushed back and stayed all night. The nurse caught me dozing and tried to make me leave.  I convinced him that he wasn’t big enough to pry me out of that chair. When Daddy’s heart cath was finally attempted, he really still wasn’t well enough. It could not be completed. He needed open heart surgery, but was not strong enough to withstand it.

Daddy and I had good talks, sad talks, and talks about death.  He was ready spiritually, but felt that he had more to do here and didn’t want to  just yet. He was afraid. I had never seen my Daddy fearful. It wasn’t really for himself he feared, but for family members whom he did not believe could handle life without him yet.  He was sad that he couldn’t fix them and their problems. Daddies often feel at fault even it simply is not true. Seeing him suffer was taxing to say the least. These few words can’t begin to express it all.  The stress was enormous. I would have liked to have some of those pills I had turned down in years past. Instead, a good friend brought herbal tea and advice. Bless her. She drove a long way to offer comfort.  A lot of people offered prayers and comfort, company and food during those days. I’m not sure what would have become of me through it all without each of them. I missed my walking. That would have at least momentarily relieved the stress.  I was afraid to leave Daddy’s room. Afraid he would need something. I so wanted to walk but couldn’t.

Daddy’s surgery date came and went.  It went well. They said so. It didn’t feel that way.  Not to Daddy. Not to me. The day before he was going home, it was the changing of the guard.  Kevin had arrived and was receiving my updates when suddenly it happened. In moments, Kevin was out the door to get help.  Daddy was in my arms eyes rolling back. He endured an emergency surgery that was started right there in his room. He never regained consciousness.  The next days were filled with prayer, tears, begging, and angst until a peace came. Kevin and I agreed to let him go. He would not have wanted to languish on life support without hope of recovery.  He was gone Easter morning 2018.

So, I walked.  I walked, and walked, and walked.  I cried and walked. I prayed and walked.  I bought new shoes because the old ones were worn out, and I walked some more.  I wondered if neighbors thought I had lost my mind. It soon became boring to walk the same neighborhood streets.  It also became apparent that those friends and I were not going to walk 5Ks together, certainly not at Disney. I had always wanted to hike.  My husband had hiked a bit and had also wanted me to hike and backpack. I decided to put funds into hiking equipment instead of 5K entrance fees.  I walked a little trail near home with my daughter and loved it. I asked my husband to walk a longer trail and loved it as well, but I had to take a short cut.  Four miles was too long, too soon. I kept walking and going to those two local trails to increase my stamina.

I finally asked my husband to hike a real trail with me in the mountains.  It was almost five miles round trip past several waterfalls and ending at the bottom of a cliff.  We didn’t make it to the cliff, but almost. It is called Raven Cliff Falls and is a great, but well worn, hike that was a bit too much for me then but easy to me now.  It is beautiful. I love hearing the rushing water. It is a busy trail, but still peaceful. Jeff was so impressed that he decided I was ready to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail.  We were thrilled.   

I was hooked.  I was also healing.  Hiking is healing. Many of you reading know this cleansing that takes place amongst the trees.  It is amazing and freeing. It is also a blessing, because not everyone is physically able to hike.  I certainly wasn’t for a number of years. However, many of you who can’t hike today could certainly set hiking as a reachable goal.  Don’t delay. Time is precious. Get up and hike.