I have always felt at peace in nature. The quiet serenity, the beautiful sights, the feeling of being at one with our natural planet. Though I spent plenty of time outdoors growing up, I was not raised in what you would call a “hiking family.” My mother has Chronic Fatigue, a disease which prevents her from performing strenuous physical activities. However, despite this disease limiting her ability to hike, she went out of her way to expose me to nature as much as possible — through camping trips with my extended family, visits to national parks, and a variety of other wilderness endeavors.

This submersion continued to foster my love of nature and awe of this incredible world we live in. As an adult, after purchasing my first “good” camera, I began hiking a lot more to test my photography skills in a place I felt at home and comfortable — the woods. The flora and fauna around me were the perfect subjects to hone my skills, and, in turn, the desire to take more photos encouraged more expeditions into the “wild” (sometimes even just a quick hike on my local trail). This purpose and motivation to take more photos quickly led to a passion for hiking that I have warmly embraced.

3 Strangers connect through the love of hiking by Kyla Phillips for Hike it Baby

Searching for answers

It wasn’t until recently that I learned my love for nature runs deeper than I thought — it is in my blood. Not in a metaphorical or philosophical way; I mean, it’s part of my DNA makeup. To explain, I am the only child born to a single mother through artificial insemination. I’ve always wondered about my donor dad — who he was, what he looked like, his likes and dislikes, etc. — but unfortunately, the only information we had about him was lost.

Over the years, I accepted that I would likely never know more about him or any other potential family members. This was difficult for me due to being an only child. I have often pondered on what it would be like to have a sibling — someone to have shared experiences with who might understand me in a way that others could not.

But I didn’t give up completely. When I was preparing for the birth of our first child, I decided to utilize a DNA analyzing service to discover more information about my ancestry. At the time, it was important to me to be able to answer certain questions and share them with our child, such as where our distant genetic makeup comes from and what possible ailments we might be at risk for.

After receiving my initial results, I was thrilled to finally know a little bit more about myself. I saw lots of likely distant cousins and spent time daydreaming of connecting with them. It was nice to have some level of insight into where I came from, even if it was from the distant past or tangentially connected to me.

Hiking is part of my identity

Two years after those results, I got the message I had waited for my whole life: I have a sister! Results of the test show all new users the potential connections they may have around the world, and it turns out my “new” sister had a similar mindset as I did. Set to marry the love of her life and thinking about future children, she wanted to know more about her ancestors and potential family.

My half-sister, whom I share 25% of my DNA with, joined the DNA service and immediately reached out to connect with me after getting her results. I immediately responded, and we’ve been in regular contact ever since. She was also the only child of a single mother via artificial insemination, and we quickly discovered that we were both conceived around the same time, at the same facility, using the same donor. My heart filled with joy when I read her e-mail and started to realize all our similarities — most notably, our love of hiking.

Soon after, she shared with me the only information she has about our mutual donor: an old piece of paper from the donor facility with a few details handwritten on it. These were filled out by donors to provide some basic (but non-identifiable) information for potential recipients. The information on it is so minimal, it’s almost comical — maybe a total of three full sentences on the whole page. What it did include though, was a list of our donor’s favorite hobbies … and guess what the first item? Hiking!

I instantly felt a strong connection to my half-sister and bio-dad. We share the same blood, and in that blood is a passion for the outdoors and an attraction to nature. I am so happy to have someone new in my life with which to share my dreams and desires.

3 Strangers connect through the love of hiking by Kyla Phillips for Hike it Baby

Looking to a future on trail

Due to her wedding preparations being so close to my location, we were able to meet for the first time this past Memorial Day. Being such a momentous occasion, I was a tiny bit nervous despite our enthusiastic and enjoyable correspondence up to that point. But we immediately connected; I felt as if I had known her my whole life. Speaking with her about our lives, dreams and careers came so naturally to us that it was surreal. After a quintessentially “Portland” brunch, my sister and her fiancé were thoughtful enough to suggest taking our 2-year-old to a nearby park where we continued chatting and getting to know each other, while my husband and her fiancé acted like giant kids in the park. They are hoping to move back up to the PNW after the birth of their first child, and we are already planning family hikes together.

I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to not only have discovered a new family member, but to be so in sync with them that it seems as though we should have always been in each other’s lives. As with most things in my life, nature will play a large part in our developing relationship as we look forward to making up for lost time together — out on the trail.

Do you have a similar, unique story? Let’s hear about it in the comments below.

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Photos courtesy of Kyla Phillips.

Kyla Phillips is a native Washingtonian who enjoys photographing her family’s adventures along the trail. Her favorite trail buddies are her husband, Alan, and their 2-year-old son, Kelvin. She is a BA for Vancouver, WA, and a volunteer for the National HiB Social Media Team. When she isn’t hiking, she enjoys travelling, gardening and crafting. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @shesakillahqueen.

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