We slid off our shoes on the trail. We kept our jackets on. The sun was bright, but it was still the day after an October snowfall in Wyoming. We carried our shoes, that way we had them with us in case we needed them back on.
I had planned to meet Robin Hopkins Guse at a coffee shop that day, but when we found it closed it seemed almost serendipitous. Guse still needed to hike before it got dark.
Want to go Earthing? She asked.
Guse was on day No. 77 of a goal to hike 100 days straight. The day before she’d checked off 12 miles. Today she’d scheduled a much shorter loop, perhaps half an hour, but she planned to do it barefoot.
Guse is not an uber-athlete. She is not seeking a record; local or world or any other type. She is a petite elementary school teacher who found herself on a trail July 22 in Sinks Canyon sad and seeking peace and strength. In her early 40s and divorced, her youngest child was preparing to leave for college. The loneliness hit her on the trail.
She realized, as she began to cry, she needed a purpose in her life, a goal to help her focus day-to-day.
For years her identity had been wound tightly into her marriage. She was a wife and mother. She’d let friendships slip away. She had neglected herself.
Hiking 100 days would be one of the first things in years she’d do just for herself. It’d give each day a purpose, and perhaps help expand her social circle.
She went home, bought a new pair of shoes, wrote down her goal and began hiking the next day.
The first 10 days were the hardest. After that it seemed possible, and she planned out the next 30 days.
Most days she can’t wait to go. Some days are hard. One day when she woke in a funk and she forced herself up to Popo Agie Falls where she practiced a few yoga poses and read.
There are days when she can only fit in a quick hike on relatively flat terrain. Other days she’s gone more than 20 miles. She now has a standing hiking date with several of her colleagues on Wednesday evenings. They are people she clicked with in school, and hiking each week has brought them even closer.
The goal is about more than fitness and friendship. If she pauses in the woods she finds reflection and calm. Some days when she plans a shorter hike, she focuses on slowing down and staying in the moment by taking off her shoes.
That was how I ended up barefoot, toes curling over rocks as people we passed exclaimed “Oh, you’re barefoot.” We padded down the trail in silence except for a few small whimpers when a rock was unexpectedly sharp, or we had a stretch of snow to wade across.
It is here, in the quiet, that Guse notes in her mind that some rocks are warmer than others, and some stretches of dirt drier, and she is both stronger and gentler than she ever knew.
The big epic hikes challenge her stamina. This summer she’s walked farther than she thought she could. The short loops barefoot allow her to dive into herself and meld with the land. Each step she takes — shoed or not — is part of her journey.
She collects a rock from the trail each day and labels it with the hike’s number. Sometimes she writes a name or note to remind her of the day. The rocks line her porch outside her home and her kitchen counter inside.
She also journals afterward. When she reads what she’s written she finds she’s become more self-assured. She signed up for a women’s hiking class this summer, something she probably wouldn’t have done a year before, and her network is expanding. She not only doesn’t feel so lonely, but also feels that it’s OK to be alone.
After her divorce she kept thinking she wanted a “redo” on her life. Now she knows better.
“I realized I don’t want a redo,” she said. “I wanted a restart and that’s what this has been.”
She’s already thinking of her next goal. Perhaps she’ll do 100 days of meditating.
She plans to celebrate her last day of hiking Oct. 30 with a group trip to a spot known as Mimosa Point in Sinks Canyon. The next day, she’s not sure what she’ll do; she may just go for a hike. By then it will likely be so cold, she’ll probably wear shoes.
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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