Courage to Hike as an Overweight Woman

Courage to hike as an overweight woman happened two years ago, when walking upstairs or cleaning my house winded and drenched me in sweat. A medical condition, long recovered from, left me grossly obese and a prisoner in my own home. However, hope was around the corner. After a foot reconstruction surgery from a fall, I watched an inspirational documentary by Nikki Kimball, a world-class ultrarunner, called Finding Traction.  However, the nerve to change my weight and life was not solely born from watching TV and dreaming of a better self, but from being shunned and fat shamed at a friend’s birthday party. With the pluck to change my life and courage to hike, I returned to comforting familiarity with the woods and picked up a hiking pack.

Not far from my home in northern Georgia, my first hike was on the Appalachian Trail off Tesnatee Gap. Filled with trepidation and fear of judgment from others, I slapped on my new pack, complete with a hip belt extension. Winded and a ball of sweat, I meandered up the leafless southbound trail because a poorly written guidebook claimed the one-mile trek was an easy ascent to amazing vistas. I marked the entire bumbling mile with tears and frequent breath-catching stops. Each time I leaned upon a new trekking pole, I craned my neck upward to analyze mocking switchbacks and false summits. The promised gorgeous summit of Cowrock was impossible, and I began to believe that I made a grave mistake trying to hike. The old Army soldier in me from depths long forgotten, forbade quitting and reminded me that failure was never an option. I hung my head to hide my salty tears from passersby, convinced each passing agile hiker thought, “This is no place for such a fat cow in her cute new gear.”

Every single stinky thru-hiker and fresh-smelling day hiker told me; enjoy my hike, almost there, you got this, and have a great day. Between their encouragement and the screaming drill sergeant in my head, my feet in new hiking boots found the courage to hike. When I eventually crested Cowrock and broke through the trees, 40 hikers in various groups sat in the early noon sun on the slab of rock overlooking the stunning vista, eating their lunches. Those who passed me stopped chewing to clap and cheer. No judgment-filled eyes, mirth on lips, nor snarky comments were my reward for the arduous journey, only surprising encouragement and genuine support. From several following conversations and chitchatting, I became stunned how strangers could be so supportive and invested in another stranger. Over the next two years, I grew to understand, a vital hallmark of the hiking community was the simple but mind-blowing act of caring for fellow hikers and being present in their lives and conversations. I was hooked much beyond the comfort of the wilderness.

Two Months Before the AT Thru-Hike Attempt

With another 20 pounds to lose, I will start my AT thru-hike overweight but not dangerously obese. For every 20 pounds shed, I envision an entire hiking pack dropped off my body. We all know how good it feels to slackpack. I once was offered life-changing support from a hiking community where I could restore my confidence and health. In the spirit of trail karma and giving what I have received, I am offering the same to my human family. I am here to encourage, answer questions, share in trials and tribulations of becoming able to hike greater distances. One half mile at a time, you will find support on the trail and from me. I will echo what I said when I crested Cowrock one sunny March afternoon among the community I have grown to need… mighty things come in fat packages.

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Courage to hike

Cowrock March 2016, the afternoon when I found my courage to hike. 

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Comments 27

  • Poppy Pai : Dec 9th

    Way to go! I’m proud of you. Our journey is not always easy but can be quite empowering. Thank you for your honesty and inspiration. I’m also trying to knock out twenty pounds before getting on the PCT in March. It’s so hard!

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 9th

      I have been eating high protein, no white foods, no processed foods. Can a girl get a gallon of ice cream! You got this! I wish you the very best trail and safety. Make sure you email me your summit photo because I KNOW you will do it. If you had the strength to make it this far…the journey is your gallon of ice cream.

      Reply
    • Cindi : Dec 10th

      You are an inspiration to me! I want to be able to do this. I don’t know you, but I’m proud of you. Just seeing this today, December 10, 2018. Made my day!💪❤

      Reply
      • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 11th

        Thank you so very much! Comments like these keep me energized!

        Reply
      • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 15th

        What an incredible comment, you made MY day. Thank you so much

        Reply
  • Scott Laurent : Dec 9th

    You rock! I too am an overweight hiker. I’ll be following your hike and rooting for you every step of the way.

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 9th

      Thank you so much!! Your encouragement and support means everything!

      Reply
  • Charlene : Dec 9th

    I love your story. And I live this story too. My biggest struggle is to take the encouragement from others as support vs judgement of my weight. As a 200 lb woman who hikes and mountain bikes, I’m used to folks looking twice or being suprised as I ride by. But, it’s very hard for me to appreciate that kind words really are just meant as kind words, instead of feeling mocked. I keep working at getting rid of this chip on my shoulder, even if I can’t get rid of the pounds. I appreciate your journey!!!! Hike on!

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 9th

      Our chip on our shoulders can be much needed armor to motor through. Keep leading the way and shattering the box society insist we stay in. 200 pounds is a gorgeous queen with the power to keep peddling and who has my goal weight! Thank you for reading!

      Reply
  • Sarah : Dec 9th

    This is so inspiring! As an overweight hiker myself, I’ve found hiking to be one of the most rewarding outlets. Looking forward to following your journey! 💙

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 9th

      Honored to have you in the honorary trailfamily as I tackle the next year!

      Reply
  • Suann Davison : Dec 9th

    March on my sister-in–arms. I am an overweight not out-of-shape, prior military woman as well. I will be hitting thru hiking starting March 1st. 😊🇺🇸🏕

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 9th

      I sincerely hope we meet out there! If you need anything at all, my email link is on the author page. Funny how we can be fluffy but still show these pups how its done.

      Reply
  • Cherija : Dec 9th

    You’re an inspiration! I’m struggling, too. I hope to one day take on this challenge myself. Until the I’ll be working on find both the inner and bodily strength needed…and keeping up with you on your adventure.

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 9th

      Do not hesitate to email me with questions. Thank you for your support and honored to have you tag along in spirit! You can do it!

      Reply
  • DiDelo : Dec 9th

    Loved this article and just found your YouTube channel. I lost 80 pounds mostly through my desire to be able to hike more. You are right, hikers are generally a wonderful bunch! I have only had one frustrating experience and that was as I reached the McAfee Knob overlook. As I caught my first look at the view a woman remarked, “You’re a big one! Congrats on making all the way up here!” And then later, as I began to walk further up the trail, she insisted how it wasn’t safe for “someone like me” to continue on alone. Little did she know that in the days before I had hiked Dragon’s Tooth, Tinkers Cliff and Mt. Rogers. I smiled told her to have a nice day and continued on.
    You are a great inspiration! I live about 30 minutes from the trail in CT. If you need anything when you get up this way, just give me a shout!

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 9th

      Thank you so much for support. Showing such class in such ugly moments lights up the trail. More than welcome to join me for a spell in CT!!

      Reply
  • Brandon Riesenbeck : Dec 9th

    You’re a fantastic writer. I can feel your story so well through your words.

    Keep it up!

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 11th

      What an awesome comment! Thank you so much!

      Reply
  • STEALTHBLEW : Dec 10th

    In accepting yourself, you’re simply agreeing to the fact that you are already accepted by the entire universe, just as you are.

    Please be careful and take it slow at first. The trail is not the best place to get in shape as overuse injuries are very common. However, if you listen to your body and avoid trying to keep up with new acquaintances, the trail will provide.

    Best of luck and happy hiking!

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 11th

      Thank you so much! I intend to do only 8 mile days the first three weeks.

      Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 15th

      Thank you for your sage words and support!

      Reply
  • Richard Wann : Dec 11th

    I am so proud of you and so inspired. I am 69 and still working. Perhaps I should quit working and start hiking. I’m in good enough shape. Just need to commit and put all the excuses in the rearview mirror. Thank you for your efforts and inspiration.

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 15th

      You can do it!! Thank you for replying and reading!

      Reply
  • Colleen Erickson : Dec 13th

    You are a great inspiration for those that are trying to muster up the courage to take that first step … that’s the hardest step … bravo girl …. keep on hiking on …

    Reply
    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 15th

      Thank you so much! Your support is awesome!

      Reply
  • Jim : Dec 16th

    Michele it is so great hearing about your trip. Dont worry about your weight or your age. It is YOUR adventure. Just have fun and enjoy it. I thru hiked the A.T. In 1990 at age 37. I was 212lbs when i started totally out of shape. I did 7,2 miles that first day and thought i was going to die. It just keeps getting better. I summited Katahdin just shy of 7 months later at 155lbs and in the best condition of my life. The A.T. changed my life in every way so much so that after many adventures in between, I went back in 2002 at age 52 and thru hiked it again. 228lbs on top of Springer, 165lbs on top of Katahdin and still felt like i was going to die after 7.5 miles that first day. Start slow, dont hurt yourself, bigger days will come. IT’S YOUR HIKE, NOT THEIRS! Send me a picture of your summit.

    Reply

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