If you knew we had a National Take a Hike Day, raise your hand. Okay, you can’t see me, but let the record show that my hand is not raised. Usually when someone tells me to “take a hike,” they aren’t suggesting that I head out for a stroll in nature…. All kidding aside, I do have a passion for hiking, but probably not for the reasons one might think.

I do enjoy hiking for the opportunity to see more of our beautiful, natural world. Like most people, I love a good mountain landscape or cascading waterfall. I enjoy the peace and quiet of nature, the sounds of birds, clean air, and a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And yes, I do enjoy the feeling of unplugging from technology. Having worked in the software business for most of my career, it is rare that I am not somehow connected to the digital world at any given moment. But as much as I love the beauty and solace of nature, that is not the reason I have spent as much time hiking as I have.

In 2018, I took a break from work and hiked the Appalachian Trail, which is over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. This backpacking adventure was the first of its kind for me. It took me about four and a half months to make it to the end. I wouldn’t really describe it as hiking. Yes, I was, of course, hiking, but to complete a journey like that involves a great deal of suffering. I pushed through sub-freezing temperatures, snowstorms, and icy rains early on as I worked my way through the Great Smoky Mountains. I dealt with frozen shoes and spent many days completely soaked. I developed horrible blisters before my feet eventually hardened up like cow leather. I was ravenously hungry most of the time, unable to consume enough calories to maintain my body weight and unable to carry enough food on trail to satiate my hunger. Every day required a new commitment to my one single mission, which was to wake up and do it all over again – to march north until I reached the end. And that’s what I did.

Years later, prior to joining Blue Yonder, I traveled out west and once again completed a cross-country hike. This time, I hiked the roughly 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail from the Mexican border in New Mexico all the way up to the Canadian border in Montana. From scalding deserts full of rattlesnakes, to the unpredictable storms in the San Juan mountains of Colorado, I was able to experience the remote beauty of our incredible Continental Divide. It didn’t rain as much on this hike, but I did get the unique experience of hiking through grizzly bear country. Yes, they are huge and scary!

Just like my hike on the Appalachian Trail, I was incredibly grateful to have had this experience and to have made it to the end. It was full of similar hardships, but that only left me with more of a feeling of gratitude and accomplishment at the end.

I have hiked tens of thousands of miles and seen amazingly beautiful things. I have met some of the most interesting people along the way. As I reflect on what hiking means to me, it really boils down to equal parts connection and catharsis. Whether I go out for a day or am gone for four months, each hike is an opportunity for me to unplug from the human-made world and plug into the “real” world behind it. It is an opportunity to ground myself, to remember that I am a small part of something much, much larger than myself or the small world in which I spend most of my time. It is a centering feeling and an opportunity for me to accept that I don’t need to have all of the answers to be a part of this universe.

While many people might think of hiking as “getting away from people,” my longer trips have provided opportunities to re-connect with humanity in interesting ways. On long backpacking trips, I have had to hitchhike on many occasions simply to get into towns to buy more food. I generally descend out of the mountains to a pass where there is a road and wait with my thumb out. There is no other choice really unless I want to walk another 30 miles into town. Time and time again, I have been floored by the kindness of strangers. I have had people help me with rides, offer me water on the side of the road, and participate in this intimate mutual exchange of trust and kindness that resonates on a deeply human level. Growing up people always told me, “Don’t hitchhike – it’s dangerous.” While I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it or recommend that anyone do the same, I will just say that it has been one of the byproducts of hiking that has, in some ways, helped to renew my faith in humanity.

While hiking long trails like the Appalachian Trail, I was also blown away by the discovery of trail magic. Trail magic is where random strangers help hikers out, often by showing up at passes and offering food or drinks. I have walked down out of the woods to cross a road, only to be greeted by complete strangers who fed me and warmed me up with hot drinks. I have been offered places to stay. I have had people pay for my meals when I sat alone at diner counters, dirty and smelly with my pack by my side. I have been given phone numbers in case I ran into trouble near some kind soul’s home.

All of these wonderful experiences allowed me to connect with people on a very human level. We never talked about work, where we came from, or how we got where we were. It was all just humans in the moment, and that can be hard to come by in normal life. Was I really doing any of these hikes on my own? Could I have completed them without the kindness and intervention of strangers? Maybe not. Just as Blue Yonder’s Core Values include Teamwork and Empathy, these values have manifested as important components of even my most remote experiences on trails.

Hiking has given me the gift of unique connections with people and with the natural world. Aside from these connections, what really drives me the most with hiking is the catharsis of traveling from a starting point to an ending point, with a struggle to overcome in between. It is these aspects of a classic story that fuel me the most. I enjoy the challenge of stripping things down to the basics – me, nature, and what I carry on my back. I like the stinging pain of hail on my face. I enjoy the fear of hypothermia during a cold, wet sleet. I live for the feeling of my heart pumping blood through my veins as I run down the side of a mountain, for fear of lightning strike. In the moment, these things feel awful and scary, but pushing past the fear, past the pain, and past the struggle, yields the catharsis that I crave. It is the satisfaction of having done the thing, and in the moment, when the lightning is shattering the sky around me or the bear is outside my tent, it is the intense, raw feeling of being alive. Sometimes it seems I must come close to losing something before I can really understand its true value. Those moments are preciously irreplicable.

Catharsis itself feels good, but it also provides the opportunity for metamorphosis and change. I can honestly say that I am not the same person today as I was before I really started doing long hikes. It has made me more grounded, less bothered by little things, and more committed to the challenges I take on. I have learned how to take complex, daunting goals and break them down into achievable milestones. I have learned how to recover from setbacks, how to deal with injuries. I have become Relentless in my pursuit of Results, which are two other Blue Yonder Core Values. Hiking has helped to shape me into someone I want to get to know better. If I can hike across the country twice, what else can I do?

Maybe for National Take a Hike Day you’ll try taking a hike of your own. Go outside, disconnect, breathe deeply, and absorb that feeling of being small in this vast world we live in! Remember that while this day is for “actual” hiking, all of our dreams come true because of the paths we take to get there. All of our dreams start as fledgling goals. We all face our own hardships and challenges along the way. In the end, it comes down to whether or not we really want what lies at the end – whether we want that catharsis, that metamorphosis, badly enough to keep on putting one foot in front of the other and marching on.

If your path or dream seems daunting, then remember the old saying by Confucius: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Therein lies the key to achieving any vision – it is the discipline to simply execute on that next best thing that moves the ball forward and to continue to do this day after day, week after week. In hiking that is taking that next literal step, but we can lean into this concept as we work to achieve our ambitious pathway to growth as a company as well. The only thing standing between us and our unrealized dreams is disciplined action. It’s all just a hike away.

Where will your next hike take you? The sky’s the limit!