Enjoying the Process: Thoughts from a former perfectionist turned hiker

I got my first glimpse into the outdoors at a pretty young age. My parents were avid skiers and scuba divers, so naturally, my brother and I started doing the same. My parents had me in the water as an infant, I was swimming in elementary school, and I was learning to ski simultaneously. By the time I was ten, I was snowboarding.

But I always wanted to explore more of the outdoors.

As a kid, I loved trying new things. I enjoyed the learning process and trying things for myself. I felt that my young age allowed me to make more mistakes and gave me more room to grow.

Despite being thrown into the joys of the outside as a kid, I was never particularly athletic; I was almost always second or third-string in sports, and I couldn’t run or swim very long distances, no matter how much I wanted to match my cousins who can run marathons. Nevertheless, I always had fun with the process.

As I got older, I started to turn more cynical and focused more on perfectionism. If I wasn’t immediately good, I would quit. After that, I was too old to try something new.

In my teens, I stopped trying new things and just stuck with what I knew. That way, I knew I would succeed.

But there was always that nagging feeling of trying something new, especially outdoors. So I would read about these trails and climbs in different magazines. But instead of trying it myself, I just read about others’ experiences and wished they were my own.

Rachel first time backpacking

As I started college, I realized that I was missing out on a lot. So, many people had their hobbies, their groups, their identity (or at least part of it.)

I tried getting back into basketball, despite quitting in high school after being cut from the team. Unfortunately, that lasted less than a semester because I constantly compared myself to the other girls. Next, I tried swimming since I had experience in my childhood. But after my lack of practice for years, it was a lot harder than I remembered.

The fun activities I would do as a kid don’t come as naturally anymore. So, I just stuck to my studies. That way, I knew I would succeed.

About three years into college, the pandemic hit and I was sent home. I, as well as many others, tried to take this time to try new things. So, I thought about what I had always yearned for; the outdoors.

As cruel as nature can be, it will never judge you, and that made me feel safe.

I embarked on my first ever backpacking trip in August 2020 at 21 years old. My cousin, an experienced hiker, and climber invited me to Colorado to try my hand at it. There, I fell in love with Mother Earth and never looked back.

After miles of hiking and a little bit of crying, I finished my first trip. I teared up when we sat down at our camping spot. I never thought my own legs would have brought me to such a beautiful spot.

At 21 years old, I completed my first hike, and I was so proud of myself. Not only did I push through the physical effort, but the mental effort as well. I always put down trying something new, especially in my 20s. But that is just so silly.

Rachel and Ellie backpacking

I gained knowledge that would take me further than I had ever thought possible on that first hiking trip. After that, I was no longer a perfectionist but a hiker, someone who, in my eyes, embraces imperfections.

At first, I worried about judgment. Could I get up these hills with this backpack on for this long? What if someone saw me huffing and puffing while they were going past me? Am I holding my cousin back?

Later, I worried about my materials. Do you think they will notice my shoes are not the top hiking ones? Did I pack my backpack like everyone else? Do I look like a newbie?

My cousin, however, enjoyed bringing someone new along. She loved talking about her passion and sharing her experiences with me to take them into my own. She even shared her own mistakes and laughed. She showed me that many hikers embrace imperfections. After all, nature and life are full of them.

Not everyone in the outdoor community is like this, though. For example, near the middle of one of our hikes, we sat down near a couple of rock climbers, and my cousin struck up a conversation. I remember hearing one climber say she was nervous to start climbing, and I remember thinking, “Wow! Another new person!”

“Are you new to climbing?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she yelled back, a little smugly. “Are you?”

“Yes,” I replied, laughing with my cousin.

“I can tell,” I heard her say, laughing with her friend.

I remember feeling all my fears creep up again. That was literally what I was afraid would happen. My cousin, obviously annoyed, told me to ignore her.

I remember thinking about that for the rest of the trip. What gave me away? I wasn’t even walking. What did I do to her?

I remember my cousin telling me that a few hikers in the community like that tend to give the newbies a bit of a hard time because they know more about the outdoors than you.

Rachel thinking

So, I tried to embrace the fact I was a new hiker. I would go on my own hikes, and if someone talked to me, I would be open about my newness. People won’t make fun of me if I am upfront. They would want to help me instead, right?

Well, instead of the jokes, I got condescending advice and people who told me I might not be suitable for hiking or climbing. So, after graduating college, I went back into my shell again. I still hiked, but I was quiet about it. I felt like the only thing I wanted to know about my hiking was Mother Nature herself. Like I said, she doesn’t judge.

But that’s when it hit me.

This is all I was afraid of? Some person making a snide comment about me being new? Possibly failing a few times before I get to the summit? I will take that any day if it means I get to experience even half the beauty I saw out there.

And that’s when the healing truly started.

I am not hiking for other people but for myself. I don’t care to show off the cool places I can hike to or how fast I can get there. I just want to enjoy myself while I learn about this new world of the outdoors.

I’ve grown comfortable with my imperfections and my failures. In the end, they are just one of the many parts of the process. And I’m in no rush to become the world’s best hiker. I just want to be me.

Today, I hike with a lot more confidence, and I love meeting new hikers on the way. Most of the time, the community has been so welcoming and excited to see new people.

But I realized there will always be those few hikers that make comments or show off, and I try to remember they are battling their own mental war with hiking.

But if I ever doubt myself (and it happens), I simply ask; Do I really care what others think about how I hike? Or would I instead focus on the trail?

I think the answer is obvious.