ACAI ADVENTURER: Mary Sheppard on Hiking Across the Globe
Many of us sit at work, allowing our minds to wander from our desks and drift to exotic destinations where we would rather be; but for most of us this is where the dream ends. However, every so often there is a person who is brave enough to stand up for what they want in life, cast off their shackles and pursue their vision. This month we are fortunate to meet one such person, her name is Mary Sheppard and she hails from a small town in the state of Connecticut. Mary very kindly took some time out of her day to inspire us with her hiking adventures around the globe, which considering she is just 23 years of age, are remarkable adventures indeed.
Mary, we’re really excited to talk to you! To help set the scene, could you just explain to us what inspired you to take your first steps on your hiking adventures?
Sure! As you know, I’m from Connecticut and I graduated from Western Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing and Journalism. Upon graduating, I landed a job as a copywriter, blogger, and marketing assistant for an all-organic nutritional company, which I thought would be my dream job. However, I soon realized that a career sitting in front of a computer all day just wasn’t for me, so I took the brave decision to leave. I am a pretty free-spirited person, so if something isn’t working for me I don’t hesitate to change it.
And was hiking something that you had already been doing or was it a new venture for you?
My love of hiking, mountains, and nature comes from a combination of my mother, as well as my experience of studying abroad. My mother has always been the biggest influence in almost every aspect of my life. Ever since I was a child, she taught me to love, respect, appreciate, and protect our environment. She instilled an appreciation of nature in me – always sending me outside to play and teaching me about the abundant beauty in this world that we are so lucky to live in.
The mountains before me rolled for miles and miles, and the lakes that were once colossal suddenly looked so tiny. Never in my life had I ever felt so small than when sitting there on top of the mountain and admiring the beauty around me.
During the fall semester of my senior year in college, I studied abroad in the city of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. I attended the American University in Bulgaria, where I met students from all over the world, and had some of the best times of my life. One of the fondest memories I have from that semester was hiking and backpacking through Bulgaria’s Rila National Park. Once I finally reached the peak I was hiking, I was completely blown away by just how beautiful the view from the top was. The mountains before me rolled for miles and miles, and the lakes that were once colossal suddenly looked so tiny. Never in my life had I ever felt so small than when sitting there on top of the mountain and admiring the beauty around me. It was at that moment that I knew I had to keep chasing that feeling…and I have been ever since!
Where have your adventures taken you and what stands out to you as being most memorable?
Some of the most memorable hikes I have completed are Mount Washington in New Hampshire, Huron Peak in Colorado, and as I said before, the Rila Mountains in Rila National Park, Bulgaria. Mount Washington was absolutely gorgeous, and I was extremely lucky that day with the weather. Normally, the weather on top of the mountain is very cloudy and it is hard to see the view. On that day however, the skies were crystal clear and I had a perfect view. I met a man at the top of the mountain who had completed the hike 11 times, and he said he had never seen the skies so clear as they were that day. It’s moment like that, that make you feel truly alive.
One of the most beautiful and breath-taking places I have seen was probably Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah; it was quite literally jaw dropping! The canyon running through it was so deep and enormous, I felt as if it could suck me in and swallow me whole at any moment. The surrounding desert terrain seemed to go on forever, its rich, warm hues standing boldly against the bright blue sky. In the distance, you could see snow-capped mountains standing proudly, a cool purple glow resting on their sides. It was amazing to see two environments that contrasted one another so much in the same place, at the same time.
Mountains can be unpredictable places! Have you ever been caught out by the weather and found yourself in a potentially dangerous situation?
That hike quite literally took the breath out of me, as my lungs were not entirely acclimated. I had a terrible headache and trouble breathing during most of our ascent. It only became worse when we descended after summiting.
Huron Peak in Colorado was the first “14er” I had ever completed (a 14er is a mountain whose summit is over 14,000 feet in elevation). It stands at 14,003 feet. That hike quite literally took the breath out of me, as my lungs were not entirely acclimated. I had a terrible headache and trouble breathing during most of our ascent. It only became worse when we descended after summiting. We had to start our trek at 4AM so that we could be off the mountain before any snowstorms started in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, we got caught in a hailstorm on the way down, so that added to the breathing problems certainly got my attention!
Bad weather usually doesn’t scare me off as long as I am prepared for it. I have hiked in the rain, snow, and blistering sun. It’s all about having the right gear, but also about having the right mind-set! As long as you’re with good company and you have a positive attitude, you will enjoy your trek. While I was hiking through Piney Lake, Colorado, I got caught in a terrible rainstorm. Of course it sucked and my shoes got soaking wet, but all I could do was laugh about it. Life is so unpredictable and we need to accept that we aren’t in control – Mother Nature is.
You developed a passion for nature and the outdoors at a young age but when did you realise that hiking was your sport?
I have always hiked, but not to the extent that I have in recent years. When I was a kid, my family often went on camping trips. One of those trips was to Acadia National Park in Maine, where we hiked up Cadillac Mountain. I was about 8 years old and it was the first serious hike I ever embarked on!
My serious passion for hiking developed after my trip to Rila National Park in Bulgaria. I realised that hiking is food for my soul. It allows me to travel and meet people from all over the world, it puts me in touch with nature and wildlife and it’s these simple things that bring me genuine happiness.
You mentioned before about your passion for meeting people. Do you tend to travel with companions? Have you met anyone that has made a significant impression on you?
I have done most of my foreign traveling with companions simply because I am lucky to have friends all over the world. The American University in Bulgaria was an international school, so I made friends from various countries. My friend Desislava is most definitely the number one person who has made a significant impact on my life with regards to my travels. She is a Bulgarian native who went above and beyond to show me the beauty of her country and expose me to Bulgarian culture and tradition. We have gone on to visit each other frequently since; meeting at the American University in Bulgaria, taking trips to Los Angeles and New York City, and trips to Croatia, Serbia, and Austria while I have been over in Europe.
I also do most of my hiking and outdoor exploring with companions. I love bringing friends along on adventures because it adds so much to the experience. Beautiful places are better when shared with those you love.
Do you have an ultimate goal or vision that you are working towards?
My goal in life is to die with no curiosities – to honestly say that I saw and did everything I’ve ever wanted to see and do.
I don’t necessarily have one it’s more of a collection! My goal in life is to die with no curiosities – to honestly say that I saw and did everything I’ve ever wanted to see and do. Some of those things include swimming in the Dead Sea of Israel, hiking the Salkantay trail to Peru’s Machu Picchu, camping under the Northern Lights, and spending an extended amount of time either living and working or just exploring in Poland, as it is the land of my ancestors.
I think my vision can be perfectly explained by one of my favourite quotes by J.K. Rowling: “This world is full of wonderful things you haven’t seen yet. Don’t ever give up on the chance of seeing them”.
There is so much out there to do, see, and discover, and we only have one life - one window of time that we so foolishly think is infinite but in reality is so short and miniscule.
Every time I embark on an adventure, I step out of my comfort zone and every time I step out of my comfort zone I learn more about myself and I change as a person. I am forever indebted to the awesome people I have met, the beautiful places that I have spent time in, and the memorable experiences that I have had whilst following my heart and doing what I love the most.
Finally Mary, for anyone who is inspired reading this article, what would be your recommendations to helping them get started on their own journey?
My recommendation is that you take the initiative to go out and visit your surrounding National Parks. They are an awesome way for those who are new to hiking or adventuring to “dip their feet in the water”. The trails are generally well marked and maintained, and they offer some of the most breath taking views of the respective local wildlife. A day spent in a National Park could quite literally change the life of someone who has never really put much thought into appreciating the outdoors.If you would like to follow Mary on her hiking adventure or get in touch to find out more please follow her on her Instagram account @everywherethatmarywent.