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Meet Jill

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My husband Bill and I have been married for 24 years, and we have three Australian Shepherds, Odin (age 8), his brother from the same mother Granite (soon-to-be 7), and our rescue Taylor (age 5-ish). We live in Central Pennsylvania, and are fortunate to live just a few minutes from one section of the Appalachian Trail. Dogs are my passion and I do some training and dog events with my own boys, and I teach others to train their dogs. By profession, I’m an academic librarian and educational technologist and I currently work at Bucknell University. 

What’s your favorite outdoor sport? 

Hiking. Are there other outdoor sports? Haha.

When did you discover your love for hiking?

I recall hiking with my mom, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins when I was around 8 or 9 years old. I recall really enjoying it! And then I recall going for another 35 or so years without ever hiking again. In early 2016, I joined a dog-walking challenge, and I invited some of the local members to meet me to walk together with our dogs. I started going on hiking adventures with a few people in the group, and it grew from there. My husband started joining me later that year, and now we hike whenever we can (which is not as often as I’d like). 

What’s your favorite outdoor memory?

I don’t know if I can think of a single memory. When I hike, I find that I have many moments in which I feel a sense of serenity, wonder, awe, and fascination with the beauty of nature. Hiking brings me a peace of mind that I don’t find in any other way (with the exception of those moments when I’m just “being” with my dogs). 

My favorite hikes are the ones that feel challenging to me. Last October, my dog Granite and I hiked with a friend in a new-to-us place. There was some boulder scrambling involved, and Granite and I had to work together to make sure that both of us were safely navigating the rocks. That was an extremely satisfying hike, and I think that’s partially because my dog and I had to connect on a deeper level and really work as partners. That’s one favorite memory!

Do you have a “disaster” story? 

Back in the fall of 2016, I was persuaded by a friend to change my hiking plan mid-stream and hike an unfamiliar-to-us trail. I had both of my dogs (this was before Taylor joined our family, so it was just Odin and Granite) with me, and the hike was much longer and more physically demanding than I was prepared for. The temperature skyrocketed, and I ran out of water for myself and for the dogs miles before we reached the end of the trail. The dogs and I became dehydrated, and I was extremely worried about Granite’s ability to finish the hike (and this boy is like the Energizer Bunny, so you know it had to be bad!). It took a few days for me (and the dogs) to recover mentally and physically, but I learned such a valuable lesson about preparation. My dogs are totally dependent upon me to care for them when we hike, and I let them down. You can bet that hasn’t happened again. 

It was important to me not to let that hike get the better of me, so the dogs and I, along with my husband, have gone back and completed it many times since then. It’s now one of my favorite hikes. Every time we hike there, we are very well-prepared, and we always stick to the plan! 

What have you always wanted to try?

Well, maybe not always, but for the past couple of years I’ve been giving serious consideration to trying a 25K trail challenge. I wouldn’t be able to do it with the dogs, and they’re such an important part of the hiking experience for me. But I’ll turn 50 next year, and I think it’s a great time to prove to myself that I can do something like that. I guess now that I’ve said it here, I’m just going to have to do it! No turning back!

I know that you often hike with your dogs. Do you have any tips and tricks to share for making it a fun (and safe) journey for everyone?

I think the most important thing about making sure hiking is fun for dogs is letting them have some time to sniff. I think hiking should be as much about mental stimulation for dogs as it is about physical exercise. Sniffing is so good for their brains! But it’s also very much about being in the moment with your dog. Have you ever seen that cartoon where a person is standing with a dog, and the person has all these thought bubbles about all of the “stuff” they’re thinking about, while the dog has one thought bubble about sitting next to his owner? I want my thought bubble when I’m hiking with my dog to be about hiking with my dog. Their (very short, in the grand scheme of things) lives revolve completely around us, and we owe it to them to give them that time and presence.

There is a lot to think about in terms of making it a safe journey, and that can change depending on the environment you’re hiking in, the weather, and lots of other factors. I think it’s really important to be considerate of others when you hike with a dog. Know that there are people and dogs who have as much right to be out there as you and your dog who might not want to engage with your dog. Be responsible and aware for everyone’s safety. And also do things like pick up after your dog, be sure to bring adequate water, and make sure your dog has the right physical conditioning for any hike you intend to do. 

What are you looking forward to?

Cooler weather! Summer is the hardest season for me to stay motivated to move because it gets so hot and humid in Pennsylvania. My dogs prefer winter hiking, and I’ve come to really appreciate when the leaves have fallen (better views), the crisp clean air, and the reduced likelihood that we’ll come across snakes, briars, mud, and some of the other less desirable aspects of hiking that summer brings.

Are you enjoying the 365 Mile Challenge?

Absolutely! I credit the challenge with motivating me to set goals for myself and achieve them! I love the mini-challenges, and I love seeing everyone’s photos and their stories. I’m a huge fan of the monthly highlight videos! I envy all the photographers in the group. I can barely take a photo to save my life. I’m lucky I have really handsome subjects to make my photos look OK.

You are a big source of inspiration for the group. What inspires you?

Everyone in the 365 Mile Challenge inspires me. Every so often, someone will post in the group about having a tough time but still getting out there to do the miles anyway. I can’t tell you how often I struggle to get my miles in (as I write this at 6pm, I have 4 miles to do, and I really don’t feel like doing them). Seeing that others in the group pick themselves up and do the work is massively inspiring!

Also, the wonder and beauty of nature inspires me. And, of course, my dogs are a huge inspiration to get out and move. Lately, also, I think the idea of getting and staying healthy inspires me. Over the last two years, especially, I have seen some tremendous gains in my health, and that makes me want more!

Is there anything that you want us to know about you?

I’ve said this before in the group, and it’s absolutely true that just a few years ago I was a couch potato. The Challenge has helped me overcome that. Also, I’m very much an introvert and I’m extremely shy, and dogs give me the strength to come out of my shell and talk to people. I’ll talk to anyone about my two great loves: dogs and hiking! 

Anything that you’d like to add? 

Thanks for asking me to share my story! And thanks to all the challengers in this group for continuously being an inspiration!

Thank you, Jill!! 

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