#52HikeChallenge: What I Learned
One of my biggest 2018 goals was to complete the #52HikeChallenge…and I finished it on December 31, 2018!
To keep it short and sweet, the 52 Hike Challenge is this: complete 52 hikes in 1 year (one hike per week).
There are countless ways to approach the 52 Hike Challenge (including official paid plans of hikes, support groups, destination hiking milestones, etc.), but I took a pretty simple approach: 52 total hikes dispersed throughout the year vs. strictly one per week (if I needed to skip a week, I could double up on another then!). I didn’t allow repeated trails until at least six months in (I only repeated twice). Lastly, I didn’t write down a set list of trails I had to conquer - nor did I prescribe to any set list that had already been created. I just waited to see what caught my eye in San Diego (or wherever I happened to be traveling) as the year went on.
My initial motivation when I set this goal was two-fold:
1) To keep in shape. I typically set running goals (time, distance, race counts, etc.), but in lieu of running, this came to my mind. I already loved hiking and nature as it was - and I knew this could keep me accountable to get moving.
2) To explore the world around me. I wanted to get out in nature as much as possible and really learn more about the environment in 2018, and I knew this was a sure-fire way to do so.
By December 31, I definitely fulfilled both of those motivations…and learned so much along the way:
The view at the end is beautiful, but so is the journey.
On my 11th hike, I planned to hike up to Cucamonga Peak - one of the “six pack of peaks” in Southern California featuring a 12-mile grueling ascent - during a trip back home to visit my parents. A few days prior to embarking on the hike, we checked the weather/snow conditions and everything was a-okay. Zero snow, clear trails, perfect hiking conditions. On our drive up towards my childhood home, it rained, but I didn’t think too much of it. Until…we arrived at the now completely snowy trailhead the following morning. We decided to go for it, but after hitting a junction 4 miles into the hike, we knew the smart decision was to turn back. It was only getting colder and windier (especially for how we dressed), we didn’t have spikes or poles with us (i.e. we kept slipping in ice and snow…well, I did) and rangers warned us about dangerous conditions near the peak (quite literally, someone had passed at the summit the previous day). I’ll be the first to admit it: I cried. I wanted to badly to bag the peak. After eating a slice of humble pie and a talk from Justin, we turned around and I made it a mission to embrace the beauty of the rest of the trail. We didn’t make it to the top, but that didn’t discount the 7.5 grueling miles we put in during rough conditions…nor did it discount the beauty of the views during the 7.5 miles.
While I’m still slightly sad I didn’t have the chance to summit, I’m happy this happened early in the challenge. It gave me a perspective to really enjoy the journey towards each summit and peak. It’s not like the view is only pretty from the peak!
With that all said, there’s something magical about soaking in the view from the peak.
Making it to the top of any hike is really a big deal and shouldn’t be discounted at all. It’s powerful to soak in the achievement from the peak (especially if there was a good climb involved). There’s power in humility and enjoying the journey, but there’s also power in embracing your accomplishments. It’s empowering and really motivating for the next journey.
It’s been said so many times, but nature is truly healing. Time and time again, I felt like I found my true self all over again on the trail. There’s something about fresh air, crunchy dirt and leaves fluttering in the wind that does something good for the soul.
While I can say nature healed on every single hike, one particular moment sticks out in my head. On my 24th hike, I set out to Oakzanita Peak, stressed, exhausted and burnt out. I had just had an extremely challenging week (crazy work schedule and Justin’s emergency appendectomy led the way) and felt like I was starting to feel depressive tendencies coming on. As I hit the peak, I noticed a whole shift in my energy. I was appreciative of the challenges, I was grateful for a healthy body and I felt happy with the sun shining on me. It’s hard to explain, but being outside, soaking in all the goodness of the environment, provides unparalleled healing energy.
There’s value in hiking solo - and hiking with friends.
I truly value alone time, but upon writing this, I realized I did less than 10 of my hikes by myself. I’ve historically loved hiking alone - and this year proved it. Similar to running alone, it provides an isolated time in nature to work through thoughts and questions (or completely ignore them!). It’s truly a moving meditation. Plus, I wouldn’t be lying if I didn’t say that I feel pretty badass after completing a hard hike on my own.
With all of that said, I really utilized this challenge to hike with people - both old and new friends (and on one occasion - a family member!). Time on the trail really provided a great chance to catch up - and to move past just surface-level conversations. There’s something about being out in nature that can open people up. Hiking helped me deepen a few friendships - and make new ones.
Trail people are the best kind of people.
Throughout the course of the year, I encountered dozens of people on trails that I’d stop and greet or chat with while we hiked at the same pace. Almost every single person was incredibly genuine and friendly. Like, I said: there’s something about being in nature that can open people up. People who spend a lot of time in nature are just…nice. It’s a refreshing change of pace from living in a big city where: a) it can be difficult to meet new people and b) conversations with new people tend to be of the shallower nature.
The road less traveled is usually most rewarding.
I loved the hikes close to San Diego because they were accessible. But, I really loved the trails that were a good drive away from city center. These secluded, less popular trails were quiet and peaceful, untouched by graffiti and litter and typically populated with wildlife (both plants and animals). While it was a trek to make it to these, the reward always paid off with dreamy hikes, incredible views, bird and deer spotting and way less sound obstruction (read: more room to soak in some of my favorite noises, like sand leaves crunching under my boots, birds chirping and wind blowing through leaves).
You’re stronger than you think you are.
There were a few hikes where I wanted to throw in the towel early on - hikes where my legs just weren’t moving, hikes where I got lost, hikes where I was just way too dehydrated and hikes where I could not get out of my own head. Every time I wanted to quit though, I told myself: just make it another tenth of a mile. And soon enough, I’d end up finishing the hike. I learned that I was stronger than my mental excuses…and that I was really strong with maps and directions. All of these challenging hikes taught me to keep pushing when I want to quit, as well as how to problem solve.
Appreciate both the climbs and descents.
I’ve always hated descents . Moving downhill has always been hard on my knees, and it never seems as rewarding as ascending to a peak. However, throughout the course of the year, I realized that descents are just as vital to the journey as ascents. They still move you from Point A to Point B, they help you appreciate a hard climb and can provide reprieve after some challenging ascents. Ultimately, you have to go downhill to climb back up to your next peak. It’s all a part of the journey, and that’s beautiful.
Stay in the moment.
On most of my hikes this year, I rarely touched my phone aside from snapping just a few pics (usually just one, honestly!). Hiking became a consciously set time to stay away from social media, texting and browsing. By putting my phone on airplane mode, I was able to really be present and engage my senses on the trail.
I also learned quite a few more practical tips along the way:
AllTrails is a gem.
I splurged (all of $30) and bought AllTrails Pro this year - a premium version of the popular digital trail guide. I relied heavily on AllTrails for a few things throughout the year: 1) selecting hikes; 2) directions to the trailhead; 3) learning unique markers/instructions on the trails from user’s comments; and 4) downloadable maps that you could access even if you had zero data signal on your phone. AllTrails made it super easy to identify hikes in areas I was traveling to…and the downloadable maps were super helpful anytime a trail had forks, overgrown shrubs and/or just got plain confusing.
If you do hike solo, let someone know where you’re going.
While I do believe trail people are the best people…you never know. I always made it a rule of thumb to tell another individual (or a few!) where and when I was heading out alone. I gave them trail names, approx. time of start and when I thought I would be done. Safety first.
Sunscreen is key.
Again, safety first! Sunscreen is so vitally important. The end.
Afoot and Afield is the way to go if you’re looking for a local San Diego guide.
Call me old-fashioned, but I love actual travel books vs. digital guides. So, while I do love AllTrails, I also utilized Afoot and Afield for local San Diego County hikes. It was a helpful guide that provided information about hundreds of trails, useful tips and tricks (including necessary permits for a few trails) and was a nice weight to my backpack as I trained for longer hikes.
Always pack more water and snacks than you think you need.
I’m a big proponent of being really prepared on the trail and packing more than enough water and snacks. You absolutely never know what might happen and what you might need.
Hiking boots are a great investment.
I started off the challenge using trail running shoes - firmly against hiking boots as I believed they were just uncomfortable and heavy. Just a few hikes into the challenge, I decided to eat my pride, bite the bullet and make the investment in a solid pair of hiking boots (I have this pair of Oboz!). The boots make all the difference. My ankles are more stable, I have better grip and my toes don’t slide forward as much on descents. I still rely on my trail running shoes for shorter, local hikes, but I prefer my hiking boots now! If you hike often, they are truly worth their money.
Spending 2018 on the trails, moving through nature was honestly life-changing. But, I won’t lie: I am relieved to have the goal done. There were moments that I dreaded my early alarm (usually set to beat the heat and so that I could maximize my day!) and moments where driving to the trailhead felt like a chore. The feeling always faded just half a mile into the hike, but I never wanted hiking to feel like an obligation as it did at times.
While I won’t be doing a repeat of the #52HikeChallenge, I’m excited to enjoy nature on my own timeline in 2019. I already miss being outside so much!
This year, I set a goal to complete one or two major hikes, so I won’t be short of any trail time soon enough!
If you’re interested here is the list of hikes I embarked on in 2018:
Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve (Santa Ysabel, CA) | North Etiwanda Falls Trail (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) | Garnet Peak (Cuyamaca, CA) | La Jolla Natural Park (La Jolla, CA) | Kwaay Paay Peak (San Diego, CA) | Willow Hole Trail (Joshua Tree, CA) | Ryan Mountain (Joshua Tree, CA) | Volcan Mountain (Julian, CA) | Cowles Mountain (San Diego, CA) | Big Rock Trail (San Diego, CA) | Icehouse Canyon (Mt. Baldy, CA) | Corte Madera (Morena Village, CA) | Torrey Pines Reserve (La Jolla, CA) | Ho Chi Minh Trail (La Jolla, CA) | PCT at Penny Pines Trailhead (Mount Laguna, CA) | Lawson Peak Trail (Jamul, CA) | Mount Gower (Lakeside, CA) | Pike Lake Trail (Hartford, WI) | McGinty Mountain (Jamul, CA) | Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy, CA) | Potato Mountain (Claremont, CA) | Oakzanita Peak (Descanso, CA) | Sunset Trail (Mount Laguna, CA) | South Fortuna Summit (San Diego, CA) | Black Mountain (San Diego, CA) | Mt. San Jacinto (Palm Springs, CA) | Mother Miguel Mountain (San Diego, CA) | Iron Mountain (San Diego, CA) | Stonewall Peak (Julian, CA) | Claremont Wilderness Loop (Claremont, CA) | Dipsea Trail (Muir Woods, CA) | Redwood Creek Trail (Muir Woods, CA) | Fern Creek Trail (Muir Woods CA) | Bootjack Trail (Muir Woods, CA) | Land’s End Trail (San Francisco, CA) | Cuyamaca Peak (Descanso, CA) | Agua Dulce Trail (Pine Valley, CA) | Pratt Trail (Ojai, CA) | Foothill Trail (Ojai, CA) | Pyles Peak (San Diego, CA) | Bench Hike (La Jolla, CA) | Stanley Peak (Escondido, CA) | Sycamore Canyon Preserve (San Diego, CA) | North Fortuna Summit (San Diego, CA) | Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve (San Diego, CA) | Guatay Mountain (Guatay, CA) | El Cajon Mountain (Lakeside, CA)