Live, Play, Travel

Nature’s Classroom

August 26, 2015
Colorado Trail, Kenosha Pass, Colorado

I am thrilled to be partnering with REI on their #everytrailconnects project. Talking about trails and what they mean to me? Yeah, sign me up! Thanks to the good folks at REI for this opportunity!

I was several hours into my ride over Rollins Pass when I realized how far I was from where I started.

I wasn’t thinking about the miles I had ridden, the feet I had climbed, or the fact that I was halfway over a freaking mountain en route to a town on the other side of the Continental Divide.

I was thinking about how far I had come since I first stepped foot on a trail.

401 Trail, Crested Butte, Colorado

Hoosier Pass, Colorado

I was somewhat of a late bloomer in the outdoor world, if you consider being a freshman in college as being “late”. I had always loved the outdoors and always been a tomboy but it wasn’t until the ripe old age of 18 that I fell in love with skinny strips of dirt and the rush that you get from facing your fears.

As with many outdoorsy women of my generation, it was a boy that got me out on the trail. He was a mountain biker and I was smitten. I was also scared. As we cruised the easy riverside trails near my university town, tears welled in my eyes and my arms shook with fear. It was the easiest, least threatening mountain bike ride imaginable … and I was terrified.

A lot has changed since then. I lost the boyfriend, kept the bike, and got way more comfortable in the outdoors. And I owe it all to time spent on the trail.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Trails have been a path to freedom and a way to push my limits. They have taught me patience, perseverance, and self-reliance. They turned a little girl that was afraid of everything into a woman that has no qualms about setting out by herself on long backcountry adventures with nary another human in sight.

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

Horsethief Bench Trail, Fruita, Colorado

The adventures have gotten bigger since those early days and the trails have gotten harder, higher, and infinitely longer. The obstacles that once made me quake with fear go unnoticed and new challenges present themselves. It is on narrow ribbons of rock and dirt that I have learned how strong I am and how brave I can be. The trails have taught me to focus on what I’m doing, to not look down, and to never look back.

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

Few things bring about personal growth like a heaping dose of discomfort and my days on the trails have provided it in spades. The experiences I have had – the joy, fear, pain, elation – have been the catalysts that made me who I am today.

I don’t have it all figured out, and sometimes I still stumble and shake, but it happens less often now and in places that I’d never have imagined I’d be. And I owe it all to time spent on tiny slivers of dirt.

Have trails made a difference in your life? I want to hear about it! Leave me a comment below and let me know what trails mean to you.

This post was created in partnership with and sponsored by REI. 

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19 Comments

  • Reply Erin Wagner August 26, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Love this. Makes me think about hiking. I remember 10 years ago when my husband and I hiked the Highline Trail in Glacier and I held on to the rubber hose they nailed to the wall for dear life. I held on with both hands. If we met a hiker I made them go around me…and I shook with fear. I’ve hiked a lot more since then and just got back from another trip to Glacier but this time with my daughter. I just went through the pics she posted and there is one of me on the same trail with a smile on my face and no hands on the hose. I didn’t even know she was taking the picture. I wasn’t afraid this time. I felt pretty good about that. Still have a fear of heights but I feel much more confident now.

    • Reply jendz August 26, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      I love this, Erin! This is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s amazing how the change can happen without you even realizing it! I hope you and your daughter had a great trip to Glacier – it’s a pretty special place.

  • Reply Lisa Urquhart August 26, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Another great post, Jen. Not only do I look forward to each new one for your gorgeous photos and enviable adventures, but for your always heartfelt, candid and inspiring insights. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply jendz August 26, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      Thank so much Lisa! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply Amy Hodge August 26, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    While I am decidedly not an outdoorsy person – I LOVE seeing your posts. They are a beautiful window into the gorgeous places you travel.

    • Reply jendz August 26, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks Amy!

  • Reply Debra Roberts August 26, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    I can completely relate to being a late bloomer. Most people do not know, and would gasp to know, my family is NOT outdoorsy, at all!! Camping to my family was staying at the Holiday Inn. My first hike was my senior year in high school. It was love at first sight. I am truly the black sheep of my family, and my non-blood family are people like you. I love your zest for nature and fresh air. Your photography is outstanding. And your overall take on life is a breath of fresh air.

    • Reply jendz August 26, 2015 at 3:02 pm

      I think a lot of us are late bloomers! My family actually does a lot of hiking now but we didn’t when I was a kid (Florida doesn’t lend itself well to hiking …). Thanks for the comment, Deb!

  • Reply Patty Limaco August 26, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    As usual stunning photos and great post! I have always loved the outdoor, many summers were spent camping with my family. But I never ventured much past our campsites on my own. After adopting Sophie, I realized there were so many great hiking trails around my house. We have explored numerous trails together and having her off leash has taught me a lot about her body language. For instance if she hits the ground and refuses to walk further on a trail we do at least once a week, its a good idea to follow her lead and head back (found out later there had been a mountain lion siting that day in the same vicinity. Who knows if that is why she freaked but regardless, I am glad I listened) You are making me antsy for cooler days so we can resume our hikes and try out new trails 🙂

    • Reply jendz August 26, 2015 at 3:38 pm

      Oh man! I’m glad Sophie was there to warn you about the mountain lion. Dogs are so smart! Most of the time we see bears because one of the dogs sees them first!

  • Reply jendz August 26, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    I should not that I DO come from a long line of people that LOVE the outdoors (especially fishing) and I spent a ton of time outside as a kid! It just wasn’t until much later in life that I really got into hiking, mountain biking, and other trail related activities. 🙂

  • Reply Erica August 26, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Great post, I had very similar late-bloomer experiences in college. I think it’s important to be a little scared at first, it teaches us the awe and power of nature, going fast, etc. There are PLENTY of things that still scare me each time I go out into nature!

    I think trails have made a difference in my life by making me slow down! Rather than bike/ski, I’d prefer to hike/snowshoe. My daily life is so chaotic, and I always try to jam so much into one day, constantly multi-tasking (and don’t get me started on my dependence on technology!). When I’m out on the trail I’m going slow, looking around, and not multi-tasking. My life really slows down when I hike, and it’s a welcome change, it re-charges my soul!

    • Reply jendz August 26, 2015 at 11:05 pm

      I think you are totally right about being scared – I think a healthy dose of fear is always a good thing!

  • Reply Amanda August 26, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Thank you for this inspiring and beautiful post Jen! My first backpacking trip was with my dad to Isle Royale NP when I was 12. It changed me in all the best ways. I was hooked and started planning trips with my friends in high school and then solo as often as I could. I’ve often told people that I’ve always thought my feet were more at home on the dirt than on asphalt. I found my inner gracefulness jumping on rocks and crossing streams. I still trip and stumble on sidewalks. I hope this post inspires people to get out there, no matter how old they are or out of shape they are. Trails help you find your way and help you find who you are.

    • Reply jendz August 27, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Beautiful, Amanda! I love that you remember that trip so much. I hope our little guy will have similar memories. 🙂

  • Reply Chuck August 27, 2015 at 1:15 am

    My friend Erin told me about your posts and after seeing it several weeks ago i was impressed not only with the photography but your sense of adventure and appreciation of the outdoors. Growing up in a small town my father taught taught me the value of adventure through camping and hiking. Much later in life Road Biking became a passion for me and this year is my first for mountain riding. The exhilaration of singletrack has been amazing and I will be working hard to do Leadville next year. Blogs like yours gives people insight and ideas to expand their horizons and I look forward to seeing future stories. Love the pic from Horsethief bench trail in Fruita. Best of luck in your travels.

    • Reply jendz August 27, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks so much, Chuck! Road biking was also one of the gateway drugs that got me in to doing longer rides – and then it was easy to transfer that confidence to the trails. Are you hoping to do Leadville through the lottery? Best of luck and please let me know if you get in. We spend a lot of time up that way!

  • Reply Jennifer Chambers August 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

    My father loved the outdoors; my mother did not. I followed in her footsteps as a kids. My passion and love for the outdoors, particularly hiking, developed because of my students. They showed me through their wonder, excitement and increased self-confidence that the outdoors opens many doors for oneself. I am grateful for them. After twenty years through their inspiration, I have sustained an 11 year old outdoor business, authored two outdoor related books, board chair of the American Hiking Society and a steward of this incredible planet. Thank you for sharing what inspires you to be strong and extend beyond your comfort zone.

    • Reply jendz August 28, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      That is fantastic, Jennifer! Thank you for sharing your story – and congrats on all your success!

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