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Q&A With A Cool Coloradan: Beth Bradley

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We talked to Beth Bradley about the #52HikeChallenge to find out what inspires her to hike 52 trails in one year and her tips for putting your boots on and getting out there. 

First, what is the #52HikeChallenge?

I first noticed fellow hikers on Instagram using the #52HikeChallenge hashtag and checked out the official account. It’s a movement started by Karla Amador and Phillip Stinis, two hikers who wanted to share the transformative experience of hiking once a week, every week, for a year. They have invited people all over the world to join the challenge and share their experiences hike-by-hike. 

What inspired you to take on this challenging feat?

Last year, my aunt gave me the idea to go on 35 hikes to celebrate my 35 years of life. I only had a few months left to do it, but I was able to make it happen. After reaching that goal, I felt ready to take on something a little bigger this year because I realized how beneficial it had been to my mental, emotional and physical health to get out and hike no matter what. Reaching that number was motivating and it felt great to keep a promise to myself. When I was considering getting started, the only reasons I could come up with not to go for 52 were that it sounded hard and I was scared I might not be able to do it. Neither of those reasons seemed good enough not to try.  

How do you figure out where you’re hiking each week?

This is part of the fun! During the week, I figure out when I’ll be able to fit in my hike and how much time I’ll have for it. I also hit up my friends and family to see if anyone wants to join me. Depending on how much time I have and who’s coming along, I start to research a trail to fit the occasion. Maybe kids will be along, or maybe some dogs, or maybe someone who has different physical needs. I also like to alternate challenging trails with fun, easy ones. 

As I’m researching trails, I only have three fairly subjective and personal requirements to consider it a hike: 1) The distance is at least one mile. 2) It’s on something called a “trail” (rather than a path or sidewalk). 3) I feel like my hiking boots are necessary.

What tips would you give someone who’s just thinking about getting into hiking — who worries maybe they won’t be able to do it, especially in a state where we’re surrounded by ultra-intense and experienced outdoors-folk all the time?

First of all, you are brave, and you are not alone! The outdoors is here for all of us, and you absolutely do not have to prove your worthiness to be there by being a certain fitness level or having expensive gear. Colorado has hundreds of amazing trails that are totally suitable for beginners; it’s one of the coolest things about being here. 

The first time I went hiking by myself was in 2017, and I was intimidated by all of the intense, thoroughly outfitted hikers on the trail. I was self-conscious of my size and relatively slow speed. But I wanted to be outside, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. The desire for that was stronger than the fear of what other people around me were thinking. If you feel that way, too, I encourage you to listen to that voice instead of your fears. If other people are faster than me, I just let them go around, and I keep moving forward. 

That said, there are a few practical things to keep in mind. Along with the basics for safety like water and sun protection, I recommend having real hiking boots because they support and protect your feet and ankles and give you confidence in your movement. I also recommend starting with trails that you know you can finish so that you can enjoy the experience and sense of accomplishment. It shouldn’t feel like a burden or a chore.

You speak honestly — in a way many can relate to — on social media about the way hiking challenged and improved your sense of well-being. Tell us about that journey?

I started hiking consistently about two years ago. I had been taking walks every day and noticed the positive effects of moving and being outside, and I wanted to make the most out of living so close to the mountains. At the same time, I had a hard time relating to or imagining myself as part of the outdoor community because there is little diversity portrayed in outdoor advertising, media, etc. Even times when I wanted to try something athletic/outdoorsy, I couldn’t find the right clothing and gear to fit, so I internalized the message that people outside a certain size range didn’t belong. 

Despite all of that, I knew I had to try. On my first solo hike, I initially felt embarrassed and discouraged about how often I had to stop. But I kept telling myself I could go a little further, and after a little while, the distance started to add up, and I found a rhythm. Something clicked in a huge way. The joy of being in nature, along with the pride and gratitude for what my body can do, eclipsed the shame. Now when I hike, I hope people see me and it challenges their assumptions. This is a huge shift from spending a lot of my life wanting to be invisible because of my size.  

I share this story a lot because I think vulnerability is the key to connecting. I receive a lot of messages from people saying they have felt the exact same way, and I want them to know they’re not alone and that they belong outdoors, too. 

In 2018 you did 35 hikes, what were some of your favorites?

I have really never met a trail I didn’t like, but a couple stand out from last year. I trained for the beginning of 2018 to be able to hike Mount Bierstadt, my first fourteener. In July, I reached the summit, and it was one of the best moments of my life. The views from the top were like nothing I have ever seen, and incredible to take in after carrying myself there. In August, I went backpacking for the first time at Ice Lakes Basin near Telluride, a strenuous trail that takes you to an otherworldly alpine landscape and electric-blue lake. It was also cool to incorporate hiking into some of my travels to other states. I went on great hikes at Diamond Head in Honolulu and at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico. 

Given that you have a full-time job, how do you find the time to get out on the trails so consistently?

I think it’s a pleasure to make time for something that you love. In the fall and winter, I generally have to go on the weekend because there’s less daylight to work with. I try to find trails that are within an hour’s drive from where I live in Denver, and luckily there are hundreds of options! I also don’t mind hiking old favorites, especially if I have someone along who will be doing it for the first time. In the summer, sometimes I fit in a quick hike before or after work on nearby trails in Golden and Morrison. 

Do you have any recommendations for hiking gear for those just getting started? 

Again, I’d say start with good hiking boots. I also think it’s worth investing in hiking poles for balance and support. If you want to hike in the winter, microspikes are essential for safety on snowy, icy trails. 

What has been your biggest hiking challenge thus far?

Mount Bierstadt was the biggest challenge. Many experienced mountaineers refer to it as an “easy” fourteener, but it was a major undertaking for me. I started training with steep hikes a few months ahead of time, and it still brought me to my mental and physical limit. This year, I am going to attempt Grays and Torreys Peak, a trail that takes you to the summit of two fourteeners in one hike. 

Why is Colorado the perfect place for the #52HikeChallenge?

Colorado has an unbelievable variety and abundance of easily accessible trails; we are so lucky! In many areas, you can feel completely removed from the city after driving just 20 or 30 minutes. The landscape is very diverse from mountains to prairie, so it’s impossible to get bored with exploring. We are also blessed with a dry and sunny climate that allows for hiking year-round. You can fit in a hike into any season with a little extra gear and preparation. 

What sort of communities have you discovered as a result of your hiking endeavors?

At the same time that I was starting to hike a lot, I found two Instagram accounts that support and represent diversity and inclusivity outdoors: Fat Girls Hiking and Unlikely Hikers. These online communities have become very important to me and continuously offer encouragement and inspiration to people who don’t fit narrow outdoor stereotypes. It’s awesome to be part of the 52 Hike Challenge community this year as well. I love searching under the hashtag every week to see where people all over the world are hiking to reach their goal. 

It’s also helped me build a community among my friends and family. Once I started sharing my experiences, family and friends who had been intimidated to go alone felt comfortable reaching out to go on a hike with me. 

What is the first thing you do after a hike?

My favorite thing to do after hiking is take a nice, long, hot shower! It’s the most amazing feeling. Before that, though, I often refuel with coffee and a breakfast burrito. 

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Photos credits: Chris Harrison, Erin Masich, Katie Carney