Brooke Jones on Health & Mental Wellness in the Outdoors
Wild[her]ness catches up with outdoor aficionado, Brooke Jones, speaking about her Hike 4 Health initiative, mental wellness and the benefits of getting outside to explore.
Brooke is a 23-year-old Queen's University student with an inspiring summer goal: she's setting out on a 75-kilometre solo hike along BC's West Coast Trail this June in support of two youth programs that promote mental wellness, Cam's Kids and Uxbridge Summer Camps.
Beginning on June 26 and finishing on July 1, Brooke has given herself six days to complete the trek. Originally built to facilitate the rescue of shipwreck survivors along the coast, the WCT has gained a reputation as one of the most picturesque (and grueling) treks in North America. Through her Hike 4 Health project, she hopes to do her part in providing opportunities for young people to reap the benefits of the great outdoors and to promote mental wellness.
We spoke to her about how she's prepping for her hike and the positive role nature can play when it comes to mental health.
Wild[her]ness: What inspired you to start Hike 4 Health and why the WCT?
Brooke: Enjoying the outdoors, whether that means relaxing on the dock at my cottage or going on a multi-day, interior canoe trip in Algonquin Park, is something I grew up doing with my family. Now as a young adult, I’ve continued to further develop this passion of mine by seeking out other outdoor-based activities on my own, including thru-hiking. Registering to hike the West Coast Trail, therefore, was a natural decision. It’s one of Canada’s most iconic and challenging thru-hikes and as I will be completed alone, it is a challenge that I am excited to take on and prepare/train for.
After registering for the hike, I thought a lot about what was motivating me to do it. What I realized was how much I loved the outdoors and how it plays such an important role in helping me maintain my own mental wellness. It is my hope that, through this initiative, other youth in Uxbridge will be able to be provided with the opportunity to support their own mental wellness through outdoor-based activities/tools.
The funds that you raise will be donated to Cam’s Kids and the Uxbridge Summer Camps program. Can you tell me why you chose these two causes in particular?
As someone who was raised in Uxbridge and has witnessed the passings of multiple youths due to mental health circumstances, I’m really proud to support and promote local initiatives that support mental wellness. I also strongly believe that natural spaces (which Uxbridge has so many of) are where nearly anyone can go to find peace of mind and [that they] need to be used more as a tool to promote mental wellness for our youth. The Cam’s Kids Foundation and the Uxbridge Summer Camps program are two organizations that uphold these values, which is why I am utilizing my trek to celebrate and financially support their efforts.
You say that mental wellness and the outdoors go hand-in-hand. How so? And why do you think this is?
If you google search “mental health” and “nature”, you will find endless articles and research supporting their positively correlated relationship. In other words, the more time you spend in nature, the more likely you are to have good mental health. Though there are many reasons for this, some [positive side effects of getting outdoors] include an increase in physical activity, decreases in stress, an improved sense of well-being, cognitive function support and more.
I think mental wellness and nature go together because nature is something that is intrinsic and essential to us as human beings. We need it to grow food, build homes and craft clothing - all necessities for life. Even if we don’t consciously recognize it on a daily basis, we all deep down have an appreciation for nature, which is why enjoying it gives us peace of mind.
Aside from hiking the WCT, how do you like to get outside? Has there been anyone in particular in your life who's been a driving force in inspiring you to get out there?
Being active on a regular basis is something that I highly prioritize in my life and do so almost entirely outdoors. I love running, cycling, swimming, rock climbing, canoeing… you name it. If it’s an outdoor activity, I’m down to try it!
I think a lot of my love for the outdoors is a result from my dad’s influence. As a kid, he often took my sister and I fishing, swimming, skiing, boating, ATVing and canoeing. We also spent a lot of our summers with my mom at our family cottage. He showed me how much fun it was to play outside and inspired me to appreciate it as much as he does. Thanks, Dad!
6 days of overnight hiking - that’s pretty legit! Have you ever done a hike this long?
I have not, and I can’t wait! Preparing for a longer trip has opened my eyes to a lot of new equipment, considerations for longer trips and training for thru-hiking.
Why did you choose to do this trip alone?
It was actually a friend of mine who told me about the trail and who I originally considered hiking it with this summer. Plans unfortunately changed, but I still really wanted to go - even if I was alone. On the day the registration website opened, knowing that it would book up in minutes, I pulled the trigger and booked a 1-person pass to hike the trail in 6 days.
I find that a lot of people fear being alone, yet it's something I believe we all should practice from time to time. Yes, we all seek out and appreciate the company of others, as it is something that is natural to us as humans. However, by constantly surrounding ourselves with others and being bombarded with expectations, influences and pressures, we may lose touch of who we are as an individual and how to function independently. I’m not saying that everyone should go on a 6-day solo hike, but even taking even 5 minutes every day to be alone gives you the chance to clear your mind and touch base with yourself.
There’s a lot of talk out there about the dangers of women hiking alone (thankfully, there’s also a lot of talk about why we shouldn’t worry about it!). Be honest though, are you nervous?
I’m about as nervous as I’d be for any other hike I’ve been on - no matter what the length of the trip, there’s always the risk of getting injured, encountering wildlife and experiencing unfavourable weather. As long as you are physically & mentally prepared and have the right equipment, there’s nothing else you can do but start your hike and keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s only your mind holding you back.
Speaking of being prepared, what 3 essential items would you never leave behind for this hike?
Rain gear: the WCT is infamous for having unpredictable weather patterns and a lot of rain. Having durable, waterproof rain gear is a must for this trip!
Sturdy boots: prevents you from getting sore arches, rolling an ankle or getting wet feet (trench foot = yuck!)
Trekking poles: They may look “dorky” but they have lots of benefits including helping maintain balance and alleviate stress on the knees (especially during descents).
Okay, now what one item do you feel is not actually essential… but you’re going to bring it anyways!
Probably my travel-sized hair brush… Even if I smell, am dirty and scratched up, I’ll feel good knowing that my hair is up in my go-to Dutch braid!
Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us, Brooke! Any final comments?
If anyone has the financial capacity to donate to the cause, you can donate via my YouCaring page: https://www.youcaring.com/camskidsfoundationuxcamps-807643. Thank you so much for your support!
Brooke is completing a Bachelor’s of Education with a specialization in Outdoor & Experiential Education at Queen’s University. She also works part-time for the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association and the Ontario Trails Council. In her spare time, you can find her exploring Kingston, ON by foot, two wheels or by water and playing sports or boardgames with her friends. Her dream job is to one day be developing outdoor educational programs for Parks Canada! @brookerebeccajones