Been There Done That
Why I Hike

Introduced: April 26 2012

Introduction: Whenever someone says to IWD Member Judy Leaver, "Take a hike!" -- she definitely considers it. In this "Been There/ Done That" Judy explains why and how she's turned hiking into a regular part of her life. One of the hikes she's taken is commonly known as "The Way." It was the topic of conversation in a previous Intelligent Women Dialogue, where members shared what items are on their "bucket lists."  (And if you want to add what's on YOUR bucket list, that dialogue is still open for comment and we'd love to hear from you!) "The Way" was also a movie starring Martin Sheen.

We think you'll enjoy reading "why Judy hikes" and to read more of Judy's blogs, visit  and look for her "blog posts" on the homepage.


Why I Hike -- by Judy Leaver

 I am a woman of a certain age who takes at least one hike a year somewhere in Europe with a group of friends. I am not athletic, and this activity was not on my bucket list.  Nevertheless, in 2004, my friend, Sheila, invited me to join her and three other women to hike in the Cotswolds region in England, northwest of London. The trip was coinciding with my five-year anniversary being cancer free, so it seemed like a novel way to celebrate.  On a chilly April morning we set out from Stratford-on-Avon to Mickleton, 12 miles away.  I got an actual physical charge realizing that William Shakespeare himself walked over the same pathway we were walking from village to village in this picturesque part of the English countryside.  


So began my new identity as Hiker Woman--an identity loaded with the thrill of accomplishment, a sense of adventure tinged with fear, spiritual discovery, historical reminiscence, and pee-in-my pants laughter.  Hiking has taught me to practice perseverance, how to be lost and not panic, how to use a compass and read a topo map, and the discernment of knowing when to collapse my hiking stick and hitch a ride to the next hotel.


A valuable side benefit has been learning to keep a journal on each trip.  They are simply too rich not to record. Ultimately they led me to the title of my blog, Literary Mileage, not to mention plenty of subject matter.


I’ve gone on at least one hike a year ever since that first one…several regions of Italy, France, the Camino in Spain, Portugal, the Dales Way and Lake Districts in England. A variety of companies have developed self-guided walks that generally take a week, with an 8-12 mile hike each day.  All of them book your hotels/inns and move your luggage, so that you only need a light backpack for the trail. You can rough it hostel-style or there’s even a company that will put you up in 5-star hotels.  Our accommodations, usually 3 star inns or guest houses, have always been high quality.  We’ve used Alternative Travel Group,  InnTravel,  and Girosole, to name just three. 


I agree with one friend who considers hiking a part of her spiritual practice.  I actually get a ‘high’ when I start out in the morning.  For one thing, the women I hike with are in agreement that we spend the first hour hiking in silence. That allows us to get ‘grounded’ in the moment, to hear the music of the birds, a breeze in the trees, the sound of ‘crunch’ underfoot, the quick rustle of something scurrying away in the woods, or to get the first peek at a knock-out view of a Tuscan hillside or spires of a church or castle in the Umbrian distance. 


The companionship element on a hike is huge.  Being in an unfamiliar environment is less intimidating with a gaggle of friends.  Exclaiming over a jaw-dropping view is twice the thrill when you have company along the way. 


Hiking is the ultimate boots-on-the-ground experience. When your focus is to put one foot in front of the other and arrive safely at your destination, what you worry about back home falls away, your mind clears, you breathe deeply in gratitude to be where you are.  And for some reason, hiking in another country is all the more exciting.  The European countryside, in particular, is compressed, making it feasible to walk from one village to the next in a day.


My favorite meditation book, A Cherokee Feast of Days, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler, has a poetic way of describing the experience of hiking:  “This is Cherokee paradise….a green cathedral with shafts of sunlight cutting through thick foliage to turn droplets of water into prisms of color.  Nothing is out of place—not even the walker.”

To read more of Judy's blogs, visit