52 Hike Challenge

When you are told by someone you love that you are broken, you have two choices; you can believe them, or not. It was suggested to me that my body did not have the strength to do all of the outdoorsy things I wanted to do, because I simply was not capable. For years I allowed myself to believe these suggestions as facts, and found solace in food and loneliness. It took letting go of this person to finally also let go of the idea that I was broken and see that my body was capable of all the amazing things it has done over the last year and a half while completing the 52 Hike Challenge.

A few months before my marriage ended I was invited to join a hiking group on Facebook which I accepted. I kept this a secret. Afterall, what’s the point of telling someone who doesn’t believe you can do something that you are thinking of doing it, right? When someone in the group mentioned the 52 Hike Challenge, I started following them on social media. I daydreamed of my feet pounding the dirt trail, chasing new waterfalls and just being outside. At the time I was stuck, paralyzed with fear because I really thought my body could not do it. I was always waiting for the right time to go hiking. It’s difficult to find the time and energy to do something when you and someone you love don’t believe you can.

When I found myself newly separated and alone, I stopped waiting.

Despite the fear, and there was a lot of it, I laced up my hiking books, and went for it. Hike number one was also my first solo hike. I was heading to San Diego to visit a friend and planned to stop and hike Torrey Pines. I had hiked it once before and knew what to expect. What mattered was that I knew it was a loop I could finish. (If you’ve never been I encourage you to google Torrey Pines hike now. That’s also why I chose that hike.)

Those 3.5 miles wrecked me. I snapped a photo of myself half way through the hike and now smile every time I see it because I’m able to see, not just how far I have come in strength and endurance, but also because the person in that photo started a journey that has lead me to where I am now.

The last mile or so of the loop is along the ocean. I took my boots and pack off and dipped my feet in the ocean, and then decided to just get in the water. While I was in the water I looked up and saw a sea lion about 15 feet from me - staring right at me. I remember thinking it was okay that I was alone; I could find happiness on my own, because in nature you’re never really alone.

The more miles I logged, the more people I started meeting. I made new friends through group hikes, my family and friends started joining me on the trail and even brought my dogs out. I became Wilderness First Aid certified and got comfortable popping a squat in the woods. Once, I even had to carry my dog Sophie on my back for the last mile when she decided she was done hiking.

The fear I felt on that first hike never really went away. That fear stopped me from lacing my boots many times. It woke me up at 4 AM begging me to cancel that day’s hike. It followed me to the trailhead driving up mountain sides. The fear was amplified after the first time I came across a snake on the trail, and then some more after I heard the distinct sound of a rattlesnake while standing in the middle of a narrow trail with tall grass on both sides of me.

For my 52nd hike I needed to do something big. This was the hike that would prove I was not broken. I would no longer need to prove my strength or endurance to anyone, including myself. On this last hike, I would be whole.

For the first time there was no fear, or morning jitters. I knew I could summit Mount Wilson. I had the strength, stamina and 51 hikes behind me to prove that I could do it.

I started out too fast. I knew this because every group we came across, we passed. Maybe we were too confident? Mile 4 through 6 were torture. Just after walking through Sturtevant Camp the trail started climbing steadily. I kept repeating, “I am here. I am ready.” It was true. By the time we reached the last mile of switchbacks we passed one last group and started climbing, our thighs on fire.

When we reached the summit we were tired, hungry and cold. I just needed to sit down. After eating half a sandwich I layed down on the asphalt road at the top of the mountain and let the sun warm my aching body. We considered hitchhiking down, or even calling a Lyft because the thought of walking down the mountain sounded so terrible. After a half mile detour to find the trailhead, we started making our way down the mountain.

There is no victory photo at the top of Mount Wilson. I managed to snap a single shot of Mount Baldy off the horizon still covered in snow. I just wanted to get back down that mountain. Fifteen and a half miles behind me, I sat in my car stuffing trail mix and oranges into my mouth, exhausted, dirty and satisfied. As much as that mountain kicked my ass, I kicked its ass too.

I’ve had trails make me cry. Times when I thought I wouldn’t make it back to the trailhead because the trail was too steep, or it was too hot, or I simply didn’t believe I could. That was before the 52 Hike Challenge. I completed each of these hikes without a single tear because I believed that I could. I hiked 214.38 miles over 18 months. I hiked in the sun and in the rain, through ice and snow. On sand, on rocks, on volcano ash. My hikes took me to 3 states and 6 countries. I lost 50 pounds and 5 pant sizes. I gained strength, confidence, and a desire to keep exploring.

In a few weeks I will begin my first thru hike. I am ready because of the amazing people who have reminded me how strong and capable I am. Thank you to everyone who has hiked with me. You’re place in this journey will not be forgotten. Here’s to Karla and Philip who brought together a community of hikers, each on their own journey 52 times.


The List

  1. Torrey Pines - 9/18/2015 - 3.5 mi

  2. Brea Redwoods - 10/18/2015 - 3 mi

  3. Millard Campground Fireroad - 10/25/2017 - 5 mi

  4. Wolf Feather Honey Farm - 10/31/2015 - 6 mi

  5. Santiago Creek Trail - 11/8/2015 - 1.5 mi

  6. Crystal Cove Upper Morro - 11/14/2015 - 7 mi

  7. Dry Creek Falls, Oregon - 11/28/2015 - 6 mi

  8. Torrey Pines - 12/6/2015 - 3.5 mi

  9. Live Oak Canyon - 12/25/2015 - 4.5 mi

  10. Goat Mt Trail Santiago Oaks - 1/1/2016 - 3 mi

  11. Robber’s Peak - 2/13/2016 - 3.5 mi

  12. Coal Creek Falls, Bellevue, Washington - 2/25/2016 - 3 mi

  13. Discovery Park Beach, Seattle, Washington - 2/29/2016 - 4.25 mi

  14. Top of the World - 3/19/2016 - 4.5 mi

  15. Fish Canyon Falls - 3/26/2017 - 4.6 mi

  16. Millard Canyon Fallsy - 4/1/2016 - 4.5 mi

  17. Fullerton Loop - 4/11/2016 - 4.5 mi

  18. Hermit and Strurtvet Falls - 4/22/2017 - 5.15 mi

  19. Eaton Canyon - 4/23/2016 - 4.27 mi

  20. Fish Canyon Falls - 5/8/2016 - 4.75 mi

  21. Aliso Woods Canyon - 5/14/2016 - 8.56 mi

  22. Guadalupe Canyon Waterfalls - 5/29/2016 - 3 mi

  23. Bridge to Nowhere - 6/3/2016 - 11 mi

  24. Roatan West End - 6/24/2016 - 6 mi

  25. Mombacho Crater, Puma Trail - 6/28/2016 - 5 mi

  26. Wakeeka to Multnomah Falls, Oregon - 8/12/2017 - 5.5 mi

  27. Eaton Canyon Falls - 8/27/2016 - 4 mi

  28. Mission Bay South Shores - 9/17/2016 - 2 mi

  29. Torrey Pines - 9/25/2016 - 3.25 mi

  30. Fullerton Loop - 10/10/2016 - 4.35 mi

  31. Sturtvant Falls - 10/14/2016 - 3 mi

  32. Top of the World - 10/23/2016 - 4.25 mi

  33. Paso Picacho Loop - 10/29/2016 - 1.6 mi

  34. Stone Wall Peak - 10/30/2016 - 4.2 mi

  35. Whiting Ranch Red Rocks - 11/6/2016 - 4.3 mi

  36. Griffith Park North Observatory Trail - 11/14/2016 - 1.75 mi

  37. Stanley Park - 11/26/2016 - 3 mi

  38. Capilano Park - 11/27/2016 - 2 mi

  39. Tierra del Fuego - 12/7/2016 - 5.5 mi

  40. Martillo Island - 12/6/2016 - 2 mi

  41. Perito Moreno Glacier - 12/9/2016 - 3 mi

  42. Torres del Paine 12/9/2016 - 3 mi

  43. Santiago Oaks Goat Mt - 12/25/2016 - 3 mi

  44. Brea Red Woods - 1/8/2017 - 3 mi

  45. Cowles Mountain - 1/14/2017 - 3 mi

  46. Millard Canyon Falls - 1/16/2017 - 1.5 mi

  47. Inspiration Point - 1/29/2017 - 10.25 mi

  48. Corona del Mar Bluffs - 2/6/2017 - .5 mi

  49. Forest Park - 3/1/2017 - 1 mi

  50. Elowah Falls - 3/2/2017 - 2 mi

  51. Griffith Park North Observatory Trail - 3/26/2017 - 2 mi

  52. Mount Wilson via Chantry Flats - 3/30/2017 - 15.5 mi

Total Miles: 214.38 miles

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Natalie Sanchez