How one woman makes trail time a daily priority
My heart is racing. I’m all but panting as I focus on putting one foot in front of the other. It’s been only four days since I last walked this path, but right now my body feels every bit of the effort.
“You like it?” Katrina Nelson asks. “That’s when you know you’re getting your daily workout in and not just a stroll.”
We’re hiking to Mushroom Rock, a journey Katrina could make in as few as 15 minutes up and seven down — if she didn’t have a slow-poke friend in tow. For Katrina, this is daily life. Her philosophy: “Just hike and be happy.”
That wasn’t always so. Katrina, a native of Michigan, became a dedicated hiker after she had spent nearly a decade in Colorado. She’s aimed to hike daily for three years.
“It became my form of therapy, just being one with nature. It completes my days,” she says. “It’s definitely my sanctuary.”
The details vary. Her favorites include Mushroom Rock and Hanging Lake — where Katrina is three minutes shy of her 20-minute ascension goal. Those are shorter hikes, 0.6 and 1.2 miles in each direction, respectively, with significant elevation gain. They’ll get a heart pumping. But she also mixes in longer hikes of varying steepness to ensure she’s working a variety of muscles. Occasionally trading her sneakers for her mountain bike further extends that goal.
I joined Katrina for seven consecutive days of trail time — one combined walking and biking — to get a firsthand look at how she makes it work. It’s true she can be a speed demon. We raced up Red Mountain and back in just more than two hours, covering 6.7 miles with more than 1,600 feet elevation gain. But Katrina was always willing to pause and allow her normally office-bound tagalong a chance to rest.
Truthfully, that was part of my motivation. I’m sometimes envious of Katrina’s schedule. She posts trail photos on social media almost every day. My reaction is often to gaze out my office window and wish I could replace fluorescent lights with sunbeams. I didn’t only want to know what she thought about and how she scheduled her hikes; I wanted to know how seven days on the trails would affect me.
Katrina often invites friends to join her, whether she’s traveling by foot or by mountain bike. Her schedule is admittedly more flexible than most. She’s self employed as the owner of Windfirm Photography. Each day is different, and that allows for morning and midday hikes.
Time outside also gives Katrina the mental space to work out her problems, whether they’re the demands of running a small business or personal matters.
“I’ve gone through a lot the past couple of years. I think about that, how far I’ve come, where I’m at now, where I’m going,” she says. Katrina is an organized person, and she says the time spent clearing her head leaves her more productive still.
But there are days when it doesn’t come so easily.
I saw that in myself during our week together. The sun beats down on Perham Creek Trail, and there were moments when all I could think about was dinner afterward. When we started up Red Mountain one evening, I wasn’t sure I had enough energy to reach the summit.
“As much as I love hiking, I do have my days where it’s like, uh, I don’t want to, I’d rather watch a show,” Katrina says. In those moments, moving forward is about mind over matter — a lesson that also comes in handy during life off the trail.
Recent years have seen numerous studies about how the outdoors, exercise and the combination of the two affect the human experience. Research published this summer in PLOS One showed study participants who exercised outdoors enjoyed their efforts more. The study also suggested longer workouts may be more appealing. Its participants preferred a long, strenuous hike to a shorter period on a treadmill, and showed improved moods after the time outdoors. But they found the gym experience more enjoyable than time sitting at a computer or talking in a similar setting.
The appeal of the outdoors is vital to Katrina’s daily hikes. She’s gym averse. As the seasons change, she’ll add layers and trade her trail running shoes for hiking boots and microspikes. She’ll continue to relish pushing her body to the max and enjoy the mental clarity that follows.
As for me? I felt a difference — mentally, if not also physically — as we trod those paths. I’ve since reverted to my desk jockey ways. But after a week in motion, I keep asking myself: Besides creative scheduling, what’s stopping me from spending more time on the trail?