Hiking has been a part of my life for more than fifteen years. I grew up on a farm outside of Eugene, Oregon. I spent countless hours of my childhood exploring the outdoors with my brother. I have so many amazing memories of playing at the small pond located behind my parent’s house. My brother and I built a raft that we used for our adventures on the pond. We spent lazy summer days catching salamanders, listening to bull frogs, and picking the juicy blackberries that surrounded the pond. For as long as I can remember, I have always had a passion for the outdoors and exploring in nature. Based on the title of this blog post, one would think that my story is about hiking through the different seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. However, this story is more personal. It’s about hiking through the different seasons of my life.
It wasn’t until high school that I discovered hiking. I joined our local search and rescue volunteer group who worked with the sheriff’s department. We had monthly meetings and outings where we received training on various aspects of outdoor life: snow shelters, survival training, backpacking, map and compass skills, and other outdoor skills. It was my first experience with hiking, and I was hooked.
Hiking in high school was just something I did with my search and rescue group. I complained about it at the time (like most high schoolers would, I suppose), although I secretly enjoyed most of it. My first backpacking trip consisted of a five-mile hike into a hidden lake under the shadow of the South Sister in Oregon. We spent the night and then hiked back out the next day. I was ill prepared for it, but it was still a blast! My feet were covered in blisters, my back ached from my pack that didn’t fit properly, and I was ready for a shower. As a teen, hiking was simply something that I did with the Search and Rescue group, or with friends. It was not something that I sought out to do by myself.
Hiking in college took on a different meaning for me. It was something that I did to escape from everything. Hiking became my personal refuge. If I was stressed out about finals, or work, or boys… I would grab my hiking gear and hit a trail. My most favorite hikes were always the ones with a view. There’s something so rewarding about spending all that time and effort hoofing it uphill for slow, tedious miles to finally reach the summit. That moment of catching your breath and looking around at the world below you is unmatched. Everything looks so small from up high. Whether you are a religious person or not, it’s hard not to feel something spiritual when you can see the Earth from that kind of view. These were the moments that I craved: hiking renewed my soul.
When I met my current husband, we spent many hours during our first summer of dating outdoors. A month after we met each other, we spent a weekend camping and hiking up the McKenzie River together. Some of my best memories of the two of us are from this summer.
After I graduated from college, I taught fourth grade outside of Eugene. One year, I even took my fourth grade class on a hiking field trip. We hiked to the top of Mt. Pisgah in the pouring rain! I kept up with the fast-paced kids at the front of the pack, while my teaching partner stayed in the back of the pack. The kids loved it! The sense of pride that the students felt after making it to the top was an awesome thing to witness.
Fast forward a few years… my husband graduated with his PhD in 2011 and was hired by Drake University in Des Moines. My husband is an avid runner and really enjoyed being able to run pretty much anywhere around the city. We also invested in some nice road bikes and took up biking together. However, I missed hiking. For some reason, I dismissed the idea of hiking in Iowa. I was upset that there weren’t any mountains to climb, and that all of the trails were paved. I just continued to put it on the backburner, and didn’t really think about how it was affecting me. I still spent a lot of time outside walking the dogs, biking, and running, but it wasn’t hiking.
Fast forward another few years… we moved to Beaverdale and my son was born in February of 2014. I loved staying home with him, but it was also really overwhelming and isolating. I kept really busy, went to lots of playgroups, and saw lots of other mom friends. But, in hindsight, I was unhappy. It was probably a mild case of postpartum depression, but at the time I didn’t think anything was wrong. I thought that was just how it was supposed to be. I was constantly tired, stressed, and needing a break from my son. I hated admitting that to my husband, let alone myself.
In November of 2014, a friend from Eugene posted on her Facebook page that she was doing the Hike it Baby 30 Challenge, and she was challenging other moms with kids to hike 30 miles in 30 days during the month of November. I was so intrigued! I had never heard of Hike it Baby! So, I spent the next hour or so checking out the website and watching the video explaining what Hike it Baby is and how it got started. I signed up for the challenge right then and there, and then I asked all of my friends to do it with me. This had my name written all over it!
My friend Lainie and I did most of our hiking together. We coordinated days and times that worked for both of us and we hit the trails with our babies attached. Since there are only so many paved trails to walk on, we were forced to find other options. We explored Lake Ahquabi, Ledges State Park, Raccoon River, Brown’s Woods, Walnut Woods, and a few other spots. I felt like I had returned to my element! I was impressed with how many hiking trails there actually were in and near Des Moines. While none of them really boasted a view like I was used to in Oregon, they all were beautiful in their own way. We were blessed with a warm November that year. I have a picture of us hiking Lake Ahquabi in t-shirts! A few days later, we got the first snow of the season. I did lots of walking in our neighborhood to finish up my 30 miles for the challenge.
While it was really fulfilling to complete a hiking challenge in Iowa, the really cool part was that I got to experience it with my son in tow. I vowed then and there that I was going to make the outdoors a priority in our lives. I want my son to grow up outdoors. I want his childhood memories to include playing outside, exploring the woods, and feeling dirt in his hands.
After a long winter of tossing the idea around in my head, I decided to start a Hike it Baby branch here in Des Moines. I went through an online training program, and a few weeks later I started the Hike it Baby Des Moines branch in May of 2015. I also reached out to a few people and asked for help. I knew that taking on this task by myself would be overwhelming at times. A friend of a friend put the word out and her friend, Maridith Morris, stepped forward and offered to co-lead the branch with me. Between the two of us, we keep at least one hike per week on the calendar and manage the Facebook page.
I feel so blessed to share my passion of being outdoors and hiking with families here in Des Moines. The community that we have created with Hike it Baby Des Moines is amazing, and I am so proud to be part of that. I think it’s so common for the outdoor activities that parents did pre-kids to get put on the backburner when babies are born (I know! I did it!). It feels like so much work to get out of the house just to go to the store, let alone on a hike. Our role with Hike it Baby is to make it feel easier for you. You just have to show up! Getting out the door is the hardest part; trust me!
A lot of people also feel intimidated by the word “hike,” but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. One of the coolest aspects about Hike it Baby is their motto: “Leave no hiker behind.” We always hike at the slowest person’s pace, and we stop whenever someone in the group needs to – to feed a hungry kid, fix a hat, adjust a carrier, or to attend to a meltdown. We never want a person to feel left behind, or to feel like they will slow the group down. Come as you are, at whatever fitness level you are at, and we will hike together!
Another cool aspect about Hike it Baby is that anyone can lead hikes. It doesn’t just have to be the branch leads. There are some guidelines we ask people to follow, but otherwise it’s pretty open. This is how the Hike it Baby community continues to grow – people get excited after attending hikes with us, they start leading hikes in their neighborhood or part of town, they start connecting with other moms and families, and the community builds and grows!
Not only has hiking saved my sanity (literally) post baby, it has also renewed my spirit. Every chance I have to get my son outside and explore is an opportunity for him to love nature. There are days that my son gets so excited when I tell him we’re going on a hike. He even created his own sign for it before he could talk. There are also days that he screams and tells me “no” when I mention the word! I think this is all part of the experience. Sometimes I have to bribe him with lollipops or a favorite snack to get in the car or the carrier. But, once we usually get going, my son is so enthralled with looking around at everything that he is happy and content a few minutes in.
My son is almost two years old now, so most of his tantrums are because he wants to hike or walk himself. I started doing “toddler-led” hikes at Brown’s Woods this fall, and he loved it! He loved being in charge, leading at his pace, and often times walking in the opposite direction! I just loved watching him explore the world at his pace, and seeing the world through his eyes.
Hiking is different now in this season of my life. It will never be the same as it was before my son was born. To think that it would be is unrealistic. Adjusting my expectations has been an important step, and one that has taken some time. I no longer need the fast-paced, high mileage hikes to renew my soul. I just need to look at my son’s face when he finds a cool branch to carry, or a funny shaped rock to throw, or when he looks up at a tree. When was the last time you stood at the base of a tree and truly admired its’ height and magnitude? Now that’s soul renewing.
Katy Severe lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, Sean, and two year old son, Parker. Two dogs and a cat make up their fur family. She works part time as a Special Education teacher, and is one of the branch leads for Hike it Baby Des Moines, which started in May, 2015. In her free time (which is rare!), she enjoys cooking, sewing, swimming, and reading.