Hiking Heals: How 52 Hikes Helped Facilitate Healing From Grief & Loss
Words by T. Anthony Bland
I enjoyed riding my bike and running around the streets until dark like every kid did in the 70’s. Then I grew up, life happened, and I became a husband and father of six children…
Sharol and I spent 19 years together building a home and a “blended” family. We both had two children and the last two together. The two youngest were in our older years, “the baby” who is my hiking partner, is 40 years younger than me.
On June 14, 2016, my wife of 19 years died a few feet from our apartment in my hands, with my daughter who was 13 at the time watching as I was administering CPR. I lost my way, my will to live and the energy to get up that night as well.
I dragged myself through each day because I had to care for Hannah. I wanted to build new memories for her so the following year we bought an SUV which allowed us the freedom to go places. We started with long drives then camping and slowly I noticed the difference in our mood when we were out in the quiet of nature.
My love for Climbers or watching them, led to hiking. I didn’t know anyone that did that, not in my family or people I worked with nor people from the south Bronx. I looked up what I needed and went to REI for boots, as I researched all I found was California “hippy” types talking about how “hiking saved their lives”.
I connected with some people on IG (Instagram) including a widow who just lost her husband a few months apart from my wife. I read their stories and was inspired that I could do it. I went back to REI and bought a map and a book that led me to some incredible trails near where I live in the NY and NJ areas.
I stumbled onto the 52 hike Challenge about a month after I started hiking. Perfect timing too because we did not finish the first hike because we didn’t have enough water, so I went back to REI for the right equipment.
I signed up for the challenge and while I waited for the official patch to come, I took a trip to Virginia that scared me and set me free.
We were waiting in town for my daughter and son-in-law to arrive. While sitting in the car, I opened the AllTrails app, and it said there was a trail next to us. My daughter and I went to look at it. We met an older couple who offered us some of their trail mix, although I didn’t take any we ended up walking on the same trail together. I was taking pictures when I heard “The view is better over here...”
We were standing on the edge of the mountain with thousands of feet of pure death waiting for us if we fell. My knees shook and I was petrified but at the same time I felt free like I did as a kid. I was still scared though! When we got back home, we went on our first hike…
Between REI, the 52 Hike Challenge and IG, I found a welcoming community.
People encouraged me to continue and gave ideas on things to use and places to see. Though I didn’t see many people that looked like me on the trails, I still found friendly people.
It took us nearly 3 years to finish because of setbacks, but we did it.
After nearly 4 years of hiking with my daughter building those “new memories,” I can honestly say, “Hiking saved my life” from total despair. When I couldn’t read or pray, I found my closeness with the lord in the wilderness, in the wind blowing through the trees and at the summit overlooking the vastness of his handiwork.
Yep…just like those California hippies.