Hiking is Healing on the North Country National Scenic Trail

Susan Turnquist survived a brain aneurysm that exploded in her brain stem in October 2014. The North Country Trail played a significant role in her recovery. As Susan says, “Hiking is healing.” Through her time on the Trail, Susan regained strength, and accomplished something no one thought possible.

After her aneurysm, Susan’s neurosurgeon told her to “walk, walk, walk” for physical therapy. She gradually moved from a walker to a cane to walking without support. Susan tried walking at the mall, but found the hard, slick floor and the bright lights and crowds to be too painful. She was afraid to walk outside during the winter, fearing she’d fall.

Susan’s son suggested she try snowshoeing. “I told him he was nuts,” Susan explained. “He insisted, strapped my snowshoes on my feet, and holding my elbow, guided me around the parameter of our garage. The smell of the air, the bite of the cold on my face, I felt, finally a glimmer of hope of a recovery to a life worth living. Every day I walked outside. As I gained strength, I headed for the woods, and the Trail.” Her son planned weekly snowshoeing adventures on his day off work. With his help, she gradually grew stronger.

  Susan with her son Matthew on one of their weekly snowshoeing adventures.

Susan with her son Matthew on one of their weekly snowshoeing adventures.

“As winter came to an end, I knew my time in the woods, and getting my ‘Vitamin N’ (N for Nature) was crucial to my continued recovery,” she said. Susan signed up for a summer supported hike series she discovered online. “I told my husband that I was going to hike 100 miles on the North Country Trail. He asked, ‘Do you really think you can do that?’” she said. “I just want to go hiking. I have no idea if I can do it.” She set out to see what she could do.

Susan was nervous about hiking 9 miles on the first hike. She figured she could do 3 miles and had her husband on stand-by to pick her up should she need to bail.

Every mile Susan conducted a self-check. The group chided her a bit when she laid down on the forest floor during breaks, but that’s what her body needed. “And step by step, I finished that first hike. The accomplishment of those 9 miles far outweighed the pain,” Susan said.

After her aneurysm, everyone assumed Susan would go on permanent disability. But Susan worked hard on her recovery and resumed her elementary teaching career.

Susan attributes a big piece of her healing and return to work to the North Country Trail: “I am thoroughly convinced, that had I not experienced North Country Trail magic, daily doses of Vitamin N, the support of my family, and a 100 mile hiking goal, this would not be possible. Thank you North Country Trail for being a significant part of my healing.”

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