How Hiking and Travel Restored Our Spirit

A toy hauler RV parked at the foot of snow covered mountains.

Jesse and I have been together for the past ten years, and we’ve always enjoyed hiking and traveling together. We love hiking because it provides a chance to clear our minds and temporarily disconnect from the world.

A few years ago, we survived an event that made us desperate to clear our minds. In October 2017, we attended the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. What began as an enjoyable weekend listening to music with friends ended with the largest mass shooting in modern history. Our weekend of fun left us running for our lives and narrowly surviving major injury––or worse. We were beyond lucky to manage an escape, sustaining only minor physical injuries, yet the mental and emotional toll was immediate and intense. The feelings and memories of that day took much longer to heal. 

As difficult as it was to move past, this event eventually became the catalyst for significant positive change in our lives. Over the following year, we began processing and coping with the effects of this trauma. We were proactive about our wellbeing, going to therapy, quitting drinking, changing our diets, and kicking up our exercise routines. Still, the sound of a balloon popping or live music playing triggered us and was sometimes too much to handle. 

And then, while on a two-week road trip with friends in June of 2018, we traveled to several new areas across the Pacific Northwest and Canada. We hiked in stunningly beautiful locations and immersed ourselves in our surroundings. For the first time in nine months, our stress, anxiety and negative thoughts finally went quiet.

Spending time in nature has long been known to benefit the human soul, reduce stress, lift depression and calm anxiety. But experiencing it first-hand was profound. Unplugging from technology and the everyday hustle and bustle of life provided an essential mental break for us, during which we were able to refresh and recharge. When we returned home, I found myself able to taper off my therapy sessions, and soon, we had formed a new plan. We would buy an RV and live on the road, spending as much time in nature as we could.  

We had so much abundance in our lives, but it seems like one thing everyone wishes they had more of is time spent outside. Luckily, because I work remotely for my company and Jesse is self-employed, we were able to make that our number one priority. 

Hiking is different from taking a stroll down a crowded city street. Walking a narrow dirt trail surrounded by wilderness has a way of sparking feelings of contentment, creativity and joy; something that has the magic power to refresh and recharge the human spirit. I’m reminded of a famous John Muir quote: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

Hiking for us is the ultimate cathartic release. Our minds get to be free and wander with the breeze. Every new peak is an opportunity to relieve stress, and having a tangible mountain to climb acts as a metaphor for overcoming life’s greatest physical and mental challenges. 

When we’re outdoors surrounded by beautiful scenery, feeling the earth under our feet, we both feel at peace. Jasper National Park in Alberta, the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, and Acadia National Park in Maine have been some of our favorite natural preserves so far. There is something about the green grass, twisting tree branches, and jagged snow-capped peaks that just sets you at ease and lets you breathe a little deeper.

For us, RVing has allowed us to take advantage of traveling, hiking in nature, and connecting with new friends we meet on the road. Our capacity to appreciate each moment has been restored by these experiences, and they’ve helped rebuild our peace of mind as we heal our spirits. We’ve seen the very best in nature and in human beings in our travels, which has powerfully improved our outlook on life. 

Our traveling experiences have opened our minds and changed us in ways we couldn’t have imagined before. We’ve met so many kind and helpful people on the road from all different walks of life, many of them coming together over the shared experience of RV travel. Having an open mind has led us to make instant connections with complete strangers, who quickly become good friends. We’ve come across so many people willing to chat about life, offer a recommendation or advice, and otherwise help or show empathy for one another, simply out of the kindness of their hearts. 

After a traumatic experience like ours, it can be easy to let the negativity in the world cloud our perception of life and push us into an existence full of fear. But when we choose to focus each day on the natural beauty, peace, and kindness we find in the world, we come to realize it’s all around us, wherever we go. 

A glassy, still lake reflecting blue skies and evergreens.

What resources do you use to find nearby hiking trails?

Mainly two apps: All Trails and Gaia GPS. And occasionally through word of mouth, books, blog posts or forums. Basically we pull bits of information from wherever we can to paint a complete picture. We've also gone to the visitor centers in some areas to talk with their knowledgeable staff and get paper maps, when they're available.

Jesse and Mel taking a selfie from the side of a rocky cliff, with a panoramic landscape in the background.

How do you know how difficult a hike will be or how long it will take?

The apps and other resources we use to find the trails usually give these kinds of details. Apps typically have a feature where previous trail users can rate the difficulty and report trip length so hikers can tailer their trail choices to their hiking ability.

A dog wearing a backpack standing on a craggy rock.

What items do you bring with you on your hikes?

It varies depending on the expected weather, length, and difficulty level of the hike but we always bring a backpack or two with plenty of water, electrolyte tablets, snacks, and sunscreen. Gloves and a jacket if it's cold, hiking poles if it's a steep or technical trail, and camera gear to take photos and document our trip. We also use our phones for navigation with a paper map as backup if we can get our hands on one and feel it's needed. And of course, whenever we can, we bring our younger dog, Zamboni, with us. She loves the more strenuous hikes.

Jesse and Mel RV in a 2017 Keystone Carbon Toy Hauler.

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