This is Real

Hey, welcome to Eat Hike Love and my first blog post on the site! If I haven’t met you, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Caroline, a 34-year-old rebel nutritionist (#eatwhatyouwant), aspiring life coach, backpacking guide, yoga teacher, and nonfiction writer living in the Columbia Gorge on the border of Oregon and Washington. I love food, I love people, I love reading, I love singing, and I love being outside.

I’m a pretty happy gal, immensely grateful for the advantages I’ve been given, the life-changing experiences I’ve had, and the beautiful place I get to call home. Lots of laughter and play these days! It’s taken a substantial amount of work for me to arrive here, though, and I want to tell you more. After a few years of dropping hints on social media and glossing over the details, it’s time for me to share my story. This is the truth—not just the wins and successes, but the setbacks, the heartaches, and the struggles, too. 

During my 20s, I partied like an animal. High heels, mini skirts, lots of makeup, booze, karaoke bars, dance clubs, drugs, blackouts, hangovers. I also had some really cool jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry, I had a few steady boyfriends, and I earned my bachelor’s degree; I told myself I was doing a pretty good job overall, and I was having a great time. Throughout these years, there were numerous not-so-subtle nudges from the universe to make changes in my life—a mysteriously sprained ankle, a DUI, an incredibly persistent eating disorder—but I didn’t listen. Boys 'n poison, that was my motto. I was reckless and impulsive and often quite inconsiderate, but I was having fun and wanted to keep it that way, at any cost.

You know what comes next...the part where I paid the price. In the months following my 29th birthday, everything fell apart. One of my best friends started blatantly avoiding me, and others distanced themselves. I lost/quit my job in a bad way. I found myself in—and thankfully, quickly out of—an abusive relationship. As I struggled to pick up the broken pieces, trying to make sense of what had happened, my other best friend told me she'd had enough and called it quits.

Needless to say, it wasn’t fun anymore. I was devastated, ashamed, and confused. I'd lost my sense of self. I couldn’t figure out where I’d gone wrong, and I couldn’t forgive myself for the mistakes I’d made.

"NOBODY WILL PROTECT YOU FROM YOUR SUFFERING. YOU CAN'T CRY IT AWAY OR EAT IT AWAY OR STARVE IT AWAY OR WALK IT AWAY OR PUNCH IT AWAY OR EVEN THERAPY IT AWAY. IT'S JUST THERE, AND YOU HAVE TO SURVIVE IT. YOU HAVE TO ENDURE IT."
—CHERYL STRAYED

I made drastic changes, committed to being a different person in my 30s than I'd been in my 20s. I gave up alcohol for a month, then barely drank at all for the next two years. I stopped going out. I moved back in with my parents. I immersed myself in hot yoga, discovering my sweat-drenched mat as the only escape from the incessant scolding of my inner critic. I decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, though I had never been backpacking before and I wasn’t even sure if I liked hiking.

Truth be told, hiking the PCT wasn’t really my idea. I felt called, recruited, pulled by a force I couldn’t define and certainly couldn’t argue with. (Call me woo-woo here if you want; won’t bother me a bit.) Almost everybody told me not to do it. They told me I wasn’t ready, I couldn’t afford to miss five months of work, it was too dangerous, I might get hurt, on and on and on. Get hurt? Ha! The pain of thru-hiking couldn’t possibly rival the emotional torture I was already in, and I didn’t need any more of the fear-based, “not-good-enough” logic that was fueling my shame and anxiety. I didn’t care what people said. I was determined to hike the damn trail, and I hiked it.

God, it was amazing. The PCT totally changed my outlook on life—the beauty, the adventure, the newfound sense of freedom—but the hike itself didn’t heal me. It simply served to peel back the layers of lies I’d been telling and believing. I discovered the baffling amount of bullshit I’d been choking down, resulting in a deeply ingrained set of self-sabotaging beliefs and habits that kept me insecure, stuck, scared, and addicted to extremely unhealthy coping mechanisms.

The real work on becoming someone I was proud of began after the hike was over. I  went to grad school in Portland and earned my master’s in nutrition. I completed 200-hour yoga teacher training. I read more than 50 books about personal development, self-improvement, and spirituality. I healed my relationship with alcohol. I committed to a daily writing and meditation practice. I learned how to forgive myself and others for anything and everything. I got rid of almost all my stuff, keeping only what would fit in my car. I filed for an LLC. I recovered from disordered eating, not by applying prescriptive food rules, but by completely dissolving all expectations and allowing myself to live in each moment with my body. I moved to the gorge. I led my first backpacking and yoga retreat, which was off the hook. And, just last month, I landed a book deal writing about the Pacific Crest Trail. What a 180, eh?

"THE DARK DOES NOT DESTROY THE LIGHT; IT DEFINES IT. IT'S OUR FEAR OF THE DARK THAT CASTS OUR JOY INTO THE SHADOWS."
—BRENE BROWN

Despite being happier than ever—and I really mean that—I am still facing some mega challenges. If I had to give 2017 a name, it would be, “The year of trying new stuff, most of which doesn’t work, doesn’t last, or turns out to be something I don’t want after all.”

In the last year, I’ve moved multiple times, searching for the place that feels like home. I’ve had five different roommates (seven if you include my parents, and eight if you include Max). I've had four house sitting gigs. Of course, because everything I own fits in my car, moving doesn't require the effort it once did, but still.

I built a website, created some professional offerings in nutrition and wellness, and found a few clients, only to discover that conventional nutritional counseling (e.g. “eat this, not that”) felt really icky. I wondered if I even wanted to be a nutritionist at all, since prescriptive food rules are so out of alignment with my own food recovery journey. I had to explore how I could apply my food philosophy, based in mindfulness and radical self-love, to the realm of nutrition.

I applied for a handful of “real jobs” that seemed like good fits for me, and made it all the way into the last round of interviews only to hear that they made an offer to the other final candidate, who was just a tiny bit more qualified than me. With a sense that the universe was trying to tell me something, I stopped considering those kinds of jobs and chose to focus on my business instead.

While exploring business ideas, I’ve been side-hustling my ass off to stay afloat financially: admin, petsitting, catering, bartending, waiting tables. I lost my bartending job overnight when the Eagle Creek Fire threatened to consume the town of Cascade Locks. The fire hit the gorge economy like a sledgehammer and, even with two new restaurant jobs, I found myself struggling to make ends meet for weeks afterward.

I've been through two breakups this year, neither of which were my idea. I'm grateful for the experiences and agree with the outcomes, but they both hurt. A lot.

During this tumultuous year, I've struggled through moments in which I felt desperately alone, convinced that nobody understands what I’m trying to do or believes that I can do it. I’ve had the kind of shoulder-shaking sob sessions that leave your abs sore the next day. I’ve had some friends and family tell me to settle for a job I don’t want with a soul-crushing commute in an incredibly stressful city because “that’s what people do.” But I am not giving up. I understand exactly what I’m trying to do, I believe that I can do it, and I am finally seeing real-life proof that my dream is possible.

"BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD."
—MAHATMA GANDHI

I will continue to rebel against the paradigms that I worked so hard to claw my way out of, the ones that say, “This is what success looks like," and then tell us to buy stuff...the ones that insist women must look and act a certain way to be accepted, respected, and celebrated...the ones that constantly try to convince us of what we lack, bullying us with the accusation that we aren't whole or complete. I refuse to spend my time and energy paying into a system that methodically inflicts the pain of never being good enough on everyone it can. I will not give in. I have to prove that the kind of freedom I envision is possible, to show that this can be done. And I’m getting really close.

Even with the challenges described above, I've never felt so satisfied with my life, so excited about everything I get to do and see. Things are just looking so damn good. I’m surrounded by the most supportive, honest, brilliant, sweet, hilarious, successful, and inspiring friends I’ve ever had. I’m much clearer on what I want to do with my business, and I’m stoked to share these offerings with you in 2018. I’ve been on almost 60 hikes this year, ranging from 2-20 miles each, in Washington, Oregon, and California. I get to spend my days in the earthen paradise known as the Columbia Gorge, along a big magical river between two massive, majestic volcanoes. And I just signed a contract with Moon Travel Guides to author the Drive and Hike: Pacific Crest Trail guidebook.

I hope you’ll join me for the next phase of the adventure. There will be food. It will be delicious. There will be hiking. The views will be incredible. There will be fun and play and exploration and silliness and truth and joy and beauty. If I’m lucky, there will be lots of karaoke. Best of all, there will be freedom. If this sounds good to you, drop me a line to keep in touch.

With lots of love, Caroline

Caroline HinchliffComment