Self discovery goes hand in hand with hiking. You may not even realize this is happening but it’s inevitable the more you immerse yourself in the outdoors. Sometimes self-discovery can be frightening; however, if you stick with it, you’ll soon realize how wonderful the process is. The latter rings true for our feature, Jessica. With life’s twists and turns including the breakdowns of relationships, we gradually emerge to be the stronger and more adventurous versions of ourselves. And when you least expect it, hiking may surprisingly turn out to be one of your passions in life.
I can totally relate to Jessica’s story as hiking crept into my life right after an important relationship came to an end. The loss hit me hard and left me feeling confused. But that painful moment led to taking small steps, literally on the trails and in real life. The next thing I knew, I discovered this new kind of love for life and myself. Jessica’s story takes me back to that moment in my life when I first encountered my love for hiking as part of my self-discovery. What was once a bitter experience has now turned into a pivotal moment in my life that I will be eternally grateful for. I hope by reading Jessica’s hiking story, you’ll feel that same gratitude towards all challenges, whether big or small, that enter your life.
Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice
Jessica Guth is from Naples, Florida. She’s most definitely a busy bee! A single mom of two, she works and attends school full-time. Florida is where she hikes locally but she spends every 6-8 weeks to take a bigger backpacking/hiking trip elsewhere. When not on the trails, Jessica loves to write, fly-fish, shoot archery and attend concerts. She’s also learning the ins and outs of hunting small game. Her love for the trails includes trail running which involves doing trail half marathons.
How did you discover hiking?
I first started hiking after I separated from my husband, about 2 years ago. I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors. I was not in a healthy marriage and he discouraged me from doing things I loved. I would always ask him to go camping/hiking/do outdoors things, but he had no interest, so I never went. Once I separated from him, I did a lot of soul-searching – it was a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. During that journey, I discovered a lot of things about myself, including just how strong and adventurous I really am. Since this discovery and pursuance of my love of adventuring and hiking, I have greatly involved my 2 kids (ages 6 and 10) and they have developed a great love of it too.
What do you like the most about hiking?
Hiking brings me a sense of peace, self-awareness, and connection. I feel so very connected to myself, to whoever I’m hiking with, and to nature.
Below, Jessica talks about some of the places she’s hiked. The photos definitely look amazing! Well, minus the alligator!
A local trail that I hiked in April 2016 was in Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida, which is just about 1.5 hours away from where I live. My daughter and I backpacked 13 miles over 2 days and spent the night in a secluded area. We had an alligator come join us around dinner time! He walked right up to our tent, and plopped himself down for over an hour!
In September 2016, I took a trip to California. I took a ferry out to Santa Cruz Island which is part of Channel Islands National Park. I camped 2 nights on the Island and did a lot of hiking during those 2 days. We hiked to the highest point accessible to the public, called Montanon Peak. The views along our hikes were breathtaking!
In April of 2016, I hiked up to Lava Lake near Big Sky, Montana. Armed with bear spray, I attempted this hike while I was quite sick with a bad cold. About 2 miles into it, I turned around and headed back because I was just not feeling good at all. 2 days later, still sick, but feeling better, I tackled that hike again. It’s an out-and-back trail that is 8 miles total. The last mile was interesting… It was fairly steep, the snow was about knee deep, and there were steep drop off’s on the side of the trail. I didn’t have snow shoes or hiking poles, so I had to very carefully take each step as to not slide off the side of the trail. I never thought the trail was going to end and it made me grouchy. When I was least expecting it, we came across an opening to the frozen lake – I could hear angels singing as I took in the view… All I could keep saying was “wow!
I’m going to add one more because I love the pictures from this hike. This hike was also near Big Sky, Montana and is called Storm Castle Peak. This was a beautiful 10 mile roundtrip hike. The views along the entire trail and at the top were stunning! At the peak, I lied down on a big rock to just take in the 360 degree views.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?
I have learned to take the trail more traveled (or end up lost otherwise), and to connect with the people you come across on the trail, you might just get some trail magic from them like I have in the past. I have also learned that hiking is essential to my well-being.
Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more?
I really enjoy getting to share a hiking experience with someone else. When I hike with another, we generally don’t talk much, we just have a shared understanding of the specialness of what we’re doing.
Jessica shares with us the most memorable hiking experience for her to date, which I hope to experience myself one day! Her photos from the trip look very magical indeed.
My most memorable hiking experience, so far, was hiking thru White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It was like being on another planet. The hike to the campsite where I was camping for the night was only 2 miles long, and all through sand. The sand (it’s actually gypsum) is so buttery soft and cool that I hiked barefoot and didn’t even bring any shoes with me. That night, we hiked up to the top of a dune and had dinner as the sun was setting. And then later that night, the sky was so clear and the moon so full and bright – it was an experience I will vividly remember forever.
Jessica has some great advise for first time hikers:
Thoroughly enjoy it – enjoy the sounds, the smells, the feeling (inside and out) that you get from being on a trail. Also, be smart – be aware of your surroundings, carry some kind of self-defense (pepper spray?), and always tell someone your plan before you head out.
And here’s her favorite hiking gear:
I love my boots – Keen Marshall’s that I got brand new on eBay in an attempt to save money. My “P” Thing (a silicon funnel to aid woman in peeing while standing up) this allows me to pee without taking my backpack off and while standing up. It’s something I will never hike without because it is just so convenient! My Resq Link beacon – this is a lifesaver, literally. I won’t ever hike without this either, especially when I’m with my kids.
Jessica’s favorite hiking photos below depict wonderful memories for her that are quite personal to her.
It was so difficult to just choose 3! I love the picture above because I am genuinely happy. This picture was taken at a trailhead, right before trekking to the top of a mountain to spend the night. I was so happy to be there in that moment, starting off on a trekking adventure.
I love the picture above because, well isn’t it obvious – it’s my babies hiking! We were hiking on the Appalachian trail that day, on our way to a waterfall where we had lunch. This was such a beautiful and special day.
If you could only read my mind in the picture above… This was the devil’s backbone trail leading up to the summit of Mt. Baldy in California. It was the toughest hike I’ve ever done and I am wickedly proud of this picture because of that reason.
What treks do you have on your bucket list?
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (which I will be doing in March and will be my first hiking trip outside of the US!), Storm King trail in Olympic National Park in Washington state, some 14’ers in Colorado, Mt. Whitney in California. I would love to hike in Norway and Iceland, and also do the Gibbon Experience in Laos. (This is just a sample of my never-ending bucket list!)
I asked Jessica about her toughest hiking experience and she notes that to be Mt. Baldy.
In September 2016, I hiked to the summit of Mt. Baldy, right outside of Los Angeles. This was a 15-mile, steep, grueling hike. The descent was tougher than the ascent because of the steepness and so much loose rock (I fell a few times!) We went the route of Devil’s Backbone trail and it definitely lived up to its name. We ended up taking a wrong trail to get back down the mountain, which made us lose elevation that we had already gained – that frustrated me, but I knew my only option was to just deal with it and put one foot in front of the other. It was both mentally and physically tough.
Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker?
Yes – At times, when I’m either hiking solo or with just my kids, I often get a little leary of people I come across. I think if I was a man, I would not get that feeling. I addressed these challenges by always being aware of my surroundings and hiking with a sense of confidence.
In overcoming challenges, Jessica shares her favorite quote when it comes to being on or off trails:
I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m just telling you it’s going to be worth it.
Jessica chronicles her adventures via her blog, Bravely Wild. She launched this blog a little less than a year ago as an outlet for her self- discovery after her separation from her husband. She’s a huge advocate for women and loves to write about different issues facing women. Hence, the blog has evolved into a means for her to express her thoughts on various subjects and hiking tips to encourage and inspire others.
But the most important aspect of being a hiker for Jessica is to spend time every year, as a tradition, with her kids. The three of them go for an 8-day camping/hiking trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee/North Carolina. They hike every day (and on parts of the Appalachian Trail) while on their annual trip. While recognizing that every hike she does is special, the ones that are the most special to her is when she gets to hike with her mother and daughter – that’s 3 generations of strong, powerful, badass women tackling the trails together! As you can see, Jessica is so passionate about getting outside and encouraging others (especially women and children) to do the same.
Is the Classic Inca Trail Trek on your bucket list? Check out the upcoming treks & adventure tours through BGT’s social enterprise, Peak Explorations. Also, read more about why you should trek the Classic Inca Trail HERE.
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