How The 52 Hike Challenge Helped Me Manage My Chronic Illness

Guest Blog By Tiffany Diehl

In December of 2016 I found myself at a place I didn’t like. I was a shell of who I once had been.

I kept making excuses for it and pretended everything was okay, but it really wasn’t. You see I live with a chronic illness, migraines. I had done all of the right things to live with this illness, or so I thought, but I wasn’t complete, and I certainly wasn’t happy.

Migraines are not just headaches. Migraines are all consuming.

I live with pain, sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells. I have difficulty with balance. I have cognitive issues with finding the right words when I’m speaking and irritability and anger issues that are not controllable.

I also suffer from extreme fatigue, sometimes needing more than twelve hours of sleep a night just to feel terrible instead of miserable.

My migraines are chronic, meaning I have more than fifteen migraine days per month. I’ve sought every treatment and doctor imaginable to see this number drop below daily.

By 2017 I was living my life for work and using the weekends as a way to recharge and get through the next workweek.

I barely had time for family or friends and didn’t do much except rest on the couch. I was unhappy and miserable, but I had run out of ways to manage my symptoms.

Then my sister shared that she was doing the 52 Hike Challenge in 2017 and I decided that I could do it. I should do it. What did I have to lose?

I had always loved hiking and I still occasionally hiked for fun, if I felt up to it. I made a goal to make myself a priority, to stop living for work. If I could do something I loved on the weekend, so what if it meant a missed workday here and there to recover instead of a weekend of recovery.

If I could spend some time with family and friends in nature instead of on the couch hiding from life wouldn't that be so much better?

I decided to commit, and commit to not just 52 hikes but to the added challenge of the adventure series, which meant I had to do some extra challenges.

I had to check some things off of a list (waterfalls, national park, group trip, and more). It changed everything.

As I started making lists of places to hike, I started to feel excited about the prospects of what I could do and what I could see.

The little girl, that had wanderlust and wanted to see the world, came alive again and decided that a chronic illness wasn’t going to keep her from seeing the beauty of the world.  

Ohiopyle State Park, Ohiopyle PA – April 2017 (waterfall hike)

Suddenly, I realized I didn’t want to just hike 52 hikes but I wanted to hike 52 NEW hikes. I decided to not only complete the adventure series but also the explorer series at the same time, meaning that along with certain requirements that needed met, I was only going to count hikes that were trails I had never completed before.

I certainly didn’t always hike weekly, but we did take several hiking trips to make up for that, even traveling to California and driving the Pacific Coast to hike some places that I had dreamed about since I was a child.

By the end of my first challenge, I had hiked in 4 states and as far as 8 miles. I had climbed mountains and through streams. I was much stronger and less unsure of myself. The challenge allowed me to spend time with friends and family in a way I hadn’t been before.  

As someone who struggles daily with a chronic illness and a sense of never being in complete control– I found a way. It wasn't always easy, but I proved to myself that I could and I did. Nature is healing.

Even on a bad day some sunshine and fresh air changes your perspective and pain seems a little less.

The slogan for the 52 Hike Challenge is changing your life one step at a time. I'm a much different person than I was.

I know how to decompress better and I try to balance my illness better. I have also prioritized myself more. I’ve definitely changed my life and still am.

Now in 2019 I’m in my third year of hiking regularly. I’ve just completed my longest hike ever. I’ve hiked elevations and distances that I’ve never thought possible.

I don’t define my life by migraine. I define my life by my time outdoors and the goals I’m setting, and migraine is just the thing that unfortunately still sometimes gets in the way.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park – Boulder Creek, California – July 2017 (Bucket list Hike)


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How The 52 Hike Challenge Helped Me Manage My Chronic Illness

How The 52 Hike Challenge Helped Me Manage My Chronic Illness

1 comment

  • I’m curious how you managed hiking on bad days. I have chronic migraines and I’ve gone from regular adventures to basically living in my bed when I’m not working. I recently read about the 3 day effect, and I so badly want to get back out in nature. I’m just struggling with how to manage my pain away from home.


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