To be completely honest, I’m not a fan of being outdoors, and I’m a homebody who loves to relax and be comfortable. But as they say, “Never say never!”

In the past, I had plenty of exposure to the outdoors, and I traveled extensively, hiked some trails, and even climbed mountains, although not by choice. Despite all this, I never found myself drawn to the beauty of nature. As an Iraq War Veteran, my experiences with the outdoors were mostly unpleasant memories. It’s safe to say that my military background instilled in me a dislike for anything remotely outdoorsy, such as camping, hiking, or campfires.

Oddly enough, as a kid, I remember telling my dad I wanted to live in a cabin in the woods, away from everything. So I guess there was always something inside me that knew there was a connection to nature. It just took the mountains some time to call me.

Fast forward to 2022, and I formed one of the most incredible friendships of my life with Jen. Although we ran in the same social circles for years, it wasn’t until the pandemic that we truly bonded and deepened our connection. Jen, an avid hiker, had invited me to go hiking with her many times, but I always found an excuse to bail out at the last minute.

When Jen and her husband were getting ready to move away for new jobs, my heart felt like it was being ripped out of my chest, even though I was excited for her. Our friendship taught me the true meaning of love and kindness in a safe and supportive environment. We had become each other’s confidantes, soul sisters who would move heaven and earth to support each other.

After years of turning down Jen’s hiking invitations, she knew I was struggling with some life situations. She kindly suggested I take my son Henry to a recommended mountain. She reassured me it was an easy trail and that we would love it.

On July 2, 2022, Henry and I were dog-sitting our furry friend Lily and looking for something to do outside. We decided to try Jen’s recommended mountain despite lacking the right hiking gear. We found the trailhead and started our trek up the mountain.

Jen was right – the trail was beautiful. We saw glacial erratics and stunning green moss, and the people on the trail were friendly. As we ascended, we could see the summit ahead, and I let Henry walk ahead of me to experience summiting on his own. As he emerged from the tree line and into the sunlight, he exclaimed, “Oh my God!” Watching him summit, everything suddenly made sense. The moment was so captivating that there were no words to describe it. Even on a sunny day, his whole body seemed to glow, and I felt an energy shift.

After grounding myself by watching Henry, I slowly reached the summit. When I reached the top, I was left speechless. All the struggles and worries that weighed me down were gone. My breath escaped me, and I felt a sense of peace wash over me. For the first time in my life, everything felt okay.

This was just the beginning of a journey that I never saw coming. This is why I hike.