About the Author: Nina Irene is a mother (of a daughter and two four-legged hiking buddies), wife, professional, volunteer and Jeep girl. She is new to the more expansive hiking trails, but determined to explore, learn and conquer. “Do or not do. There is no try.” Master Yoda

Perfect. The sun is just inching up, the trail quiet–my only companions are rustling through the leaves in nearby trees. Only tracks tell of their predawn bravery to follow the open trail.

Early morning hikes top it all. I relish the minutes, the hours on the trail.

A few outings a year just aren’t enough. The daily climbs settle me. I leave it all behind.

Don’t get me wrong, the “all” is great–career, family, friends, purpose. Maybe that’s why I love hiking, though. I just go. I enjoy free thinking. I exhale in a way that only happens out there. My feet move swiftly. My heart expands like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas—growing and growing until it breaks out of the box of routine.

I’m free. I’m awesome. (Leave me in my euphoria.)  🙂

Every doubt, every insecurity and disappointment is gone. The breath of hope takes over. If it sounds more like a religious experience than an activity–it is. I seek beyond me.

Before it all began

I’ve always been a town kid. I was raised within walking distance of stores and festivals. For years I actually lived over a store. I was comfortable in the center of it all–the people and their activities. I sought the action of urban life.

I even moved Florida’s flatlands. Ahhh, that was the life–for awhile. My outdoor fix came from highway cycling, riding from key to key and jumping into the ocean on a whim.

Then … another city. More education. A career. The hustle and bustle became stressful. I moved indoors and began finding false solace in work and watching TV. I lost my focus and, with it, my health.

My body bulged with the evidence of trying to eat away my stress. Decades passed. My career flourished. My family needed me. But I was trapped in an oversized, exhausted body.

Trails. What trails?

You mean sidewalks? I would drive a block to the store.

But somehow, with the help of a doctor-supervised program, a kind nurse and the determination to change, healthy eating became a priority and the weight began to melt away. As I changed, activity became natural. I actually wanted to move–you know–under my own steam.

I began walking. I took it slow and began to discover the benefits of letting my mind and body wander. It reminded me of a more traditional time when people cleared fields, raised animals, collected eggs—all in the name of survival. Now we sit at computers and fry our brains, only to head home and veg out.

Fortunately, I found the trails. The hills. The ups and downs. The trees and fields.

Now they call me.

I can be filled with deadline stress, ticked off at my husband, disappointed with my daughter or whatever. As I commit to the trail, I rediscover my purpose and value. My attitude adjusts. I’m my best me.

I’m so fortunate to live where trails abound. But as I delve deeper and deeper into hiking, I’m planning longer, more distant outings.

Would you join my journey?

Hike with me as I prepare to explore the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail in March and sections of the North Country Trail and Hiawatha National Forest over the summer. Share your experiences and advice with this newbie as I pursue the exhilaration the trail.

I admit to knowing little, but loving large. To help me and other newbies in our quest to go and grow, share on of the early mistakes you made on the trails in the comments section. I’m all ears!