How Backpacking Changed My Life

How Backpacking Changed My Life

By: Ali Solomon
Our everyday lives can be compared to a revolving door – we go round and round, propelled by emotions of glee and disappointment, our surroundings becoming a distorted blur as we go through our daily routine.  While we can sustain comfort in this kind of lifestyle, what happens when our revolving door stops?  Do we push on as if nothing happened?  Or become overwhelmed with how we are going to move forward?

For those of us who suffer from anxiety, we feel trapped between the translucent panes of glass, frantic and uneasy as our lives move on without us.  Pushing through with a willful mind and confident steps is not something that comes effortlessly, but I can personally attest that it is possible.

If you would have told me four years ago that I would hike almost 50 miles in the Grand Canyon, I would have thought you mad.  At age 23 to the outside world, I had everything ahead of me – I’d graduated college with Honors, got engaged, and landed a wonderful internship with The Walt Disney Company — but I carried a secret burden that affected me daily: an anxiety disorder.

At first, I had no idea what was happening to me — months went by where I was fraught with random episodes of trouble sleeping, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and a few spontaneous incidents of numbness in my hands.  After one particularly bad episode I endured out on a walk, I was afraid to go outside more than 20 feet from a bathroom, fearing somehow the walk would instill another disgusting and degrading episode.  Even when I wasn’t on the go, I irrationally worried about my symptoms resurfacing at any given moment.  After talking to my parents and fiancé, I decided it was time for me to quit my internship in Orlando and move back home to Indiana.  It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.
Upon moving home, I received medical treatment and read up on various coping mechanisms online.  I started a new job and got married, trying anything and everything to subdue my anxiety.  Over the years I’ve gone from yoga to journaling to a gluten-free diet to recreational rock climbing.  While these somewhat drastic lifestyle changes have decreased my symptoms significantly, even now they spontaneously rear their ugly heads.  The important part for me is distinguishing that I am LIVING with anxiety, not dying from it.
As a cliché 2017 New Years resolution, I wanted to prove to myself that I can become even better, get even closer to the person I want to be.  I needed to do something entirely out of character – something that would push me mentally and physically. When I heard that a local company in Indianapolis was guiding an all-women backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon, I knew that was my chance.
My training began in a cold Midwestern January, ending with the trip in Arizona at the beginning of March.  Somehow I had to figure out how I was going to carry my tent, clothing, sleeping bag, stove, food, and a gallon of water all on my back for 10 miles one way.  While I wasn’t inactive by any means, I’d had an inguinal hernia operated on 2 years prior and was nervous about how my abdominal muscles and scar tissue would hold up.  That fact alone could have been an easy excuse to not follow through, but I decided to push my revolving door forward.
With the wonderful support of my husband, I began walking on treadmills, doing an ungodly amount of squats, and even got a couple of outdoor hikes with my pack on prior to the big event.  For almost three months I exercised for 1-2 hours after a full day of work and my weekends were devoted to 2-3 hour walks fully loaded.  None of it was simple or easy, but I am grateful that I prepared myself — it certainly improved my mental state out on the trail.
Finally, after thinking, talking, and breathing preparedness for my descent into the Grand Canyon, the trip came and went.  It was incredible.  Those who were strangers I sat next to on the plane became close friends as we encouraged each other to walk those final, tired steps out of a blistering canyon.
We shared laughter, tents, tears, and stories.  Each meal was eaten from a bag, and the water from a creek next to our campsite.  There was no talk of giving up, and no room in my head for worried thoughts.  Time passed slowly, the moon so bright it cast black shadows like the sun.  Down in that mystical canyon, exhausted, blistered, and unkempt, I felt whole for the first time in years.

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