I don’t want anyone to hear me breathe too loudly.

This is the thought that held me back from hiking for so many years. That held me back from doing quite a bit of things, really. It is no secret that walking uphill causes a person to breathe more heavily, but imagine for a moment, that you believe to do so–to breathe heavily–is wrong.

I thought people would laugh, I thought they would judge me. I believed, without a doubt, that I had no place on the trails. How could a person like me, overweight and inexperienced in the ways of hiking, find a place among the people walking through the trees?

The only way I would hike, was alone. I found solace in the world that was around me. I liked the birds and the bugs. I liked the squirrels most of all, skipping from tree to tree. I liked when I could smell wild onions in the ground and other strange scents, some of which are now so familiar, but are still without a name. I loved watching the light through the trees on my skin and feeling the sweat run in little lines down my back. I even like the little sting in my lungs from the exertion of moving uphill. Yet still, I hated my breath. I hated myself for needing heavy breaths. I found myself insulting the moments when I stopped to breathe, to take in air, to smooth out the stitch that had formed in my side.

So I hiked less.

I never lost my love for The Woods, I just loved it from a distance. Jealous, I made up excuses to not hike with friends.

I’m too busy.     I’m too tired.     Not today.     Maybe tomorrow.

Then finally, tomorrow came. I found myself in a new college with new friends and new opportunities. I wanted to better myself. I wanted to experience new things. I wanted to visit my old friend, The Woods.

So I hiked.

I hiked until I couldn’t breathe. I hiked until the stitch in my side was screaming. I hiked, and I breathed, LOUDLY! I hiked up and up and up, and finally, I couldn’t keep going.

So I stopped. I stopped, and when the tiny anger for my heavy breaths came back, I let them come. I cursed my loud breathing and fought it. An internal scolding for needing the air.

Amidst the breathing, and the anger, and the tears that were beginning to form, I noticed a squirrel. A little one, hopping from branch to branch like I had always loved. So I stood and cried. I watched the squirrel jump and play. I watched for so long that my heavy breathing had returned to normal, even breaths. My heavy breathing meant I needed to stop, and I realized for the first time that maybe stopping isn’t a bad thing. Stopping to look around you, to appreciate. Stopping for air, beautiful, fresh air.

I had lived a life of being ashamed of my heavy breathing. Not realizing that breathing is necessary. I finally acknowledged that breathing happens for many great reasons, and that we need to be stopped in order to realize what we are missing when we try to go too quickly.

Sometimes, I still struggle with my insecurity, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I may never be the fastest hiker, the most adept forest goer, and that’s okay. I enjoy The Woods more now. I visit my friend whenever I can.

So please, join me! Come see the forest and walk in The Woods–we can go together if you want. A little nervous? That’s okay.

It always helps me to just stop, look around, and take a deep breath.

Ashley and Kayla after their hike on Mountain Day 2017




  • Clint Patterson,

    What a great story! I am so glad you didn’t let your loud breathing keep you out of the woods any longer!

    I have actually been a little embarrassed of my own heavy breathing while hiking or working in the steep terrain on the Berea College Forest. People expect me to be in shape, yet I seem to have lingering effects from pneumonia…perhaps reduced lung capacity…I contracted many years ago when I worked on a barn roof all day in freezing rain.

    One thing I have noticed, concerning animals encountered while hiking or working in the forest, is thatis that they seem to pick up more on your intent than the noise you may be making. If you have a gentle and inquisitive attitude, and an expectation of having an “animal experience”, it seems that the animals are less afraid and may even act as if you belong there. And why not? You do!

    Thanks for the story…it is inspiring, and you are a good writer!

    • Ashley Mike,

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Clint.
      I am glad to have let myself back in the Forest!
      I think it can be helpful for those who feel like they don’t belong to hear those stories like yours and like mine. One begins to realize that this place is for everyone!

  • Nayda Colomb,

    Thank you for being honest with yourself – and us! I find solace in the woods around our home and we just saw a doe and two very young fawns walk through our driveway – one of many magic moments we appreciate so much! Nature is a wonderful gift we need to take time to observe.

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