We’re encouraging everyone to spend more time on trails—and we hope you will help us by inviting your friends, family and fellow community members to hit the trails, too! As someone who regularly turns time spent on the trail into quality time spent with loved ones, we asked Ajoa Abrokwa (@SheIsFocused_Next) to share more about how she uses trails to connect with other people and enjoy the outdoors.
Read her #TrailMoments, then share your own photos, videos and written stories at TrailMoments.Org.
“I have had many amazing trail experiences, and my most favorite trail moments have been those that I have shared with family and friends while building community."
Almost three years ago, I started what I considered to be a new hobby, an activity that I believed would serve as a tool to support me in better managing my emotions during the height of challenging times. I chose to engage in an activity that I loved as a child: riding my bike through the streets of North Philadelphia.
I remember telling three of my closest friends and my children that I was going to purchase a bike; they were all supportive, however, one of my friends asked, “what are you going to do with that?” I thought it was obvious, but I guess she had questions. My intentions around my new hobby were simply to use it as an outlet.
I went on my first official ride June 19, 2020, and invited a friend to join me. We chose to bike along a public trail that runs through the city of Philadelphia, the suburbs and beyond, the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT). During our ride, I remember enjoying the sun beaming on my skin, inhaling the fresh air and admiring the tree canopies covering us. I felt joy, peace even. We were just riding, not talking much, but we were smiling and having a great time. The experience felt so childlike but also healing and validating. It was an experience that, looking back now, I needed. There was a sense of calm. It provided a source of active meditation. I could process my thoughts and be present in the beauty that was the outdoors—an experience that I do not often get with living in the city and being a mom of three. For this reason, cycling, walking and hiking outdoors became much more than occasional hobbies, they’ve become passions, a part of my lifestyle. These passions began to provide me with a certain happiness that I had not realized was required and needed for my health and well-being.
If I were asked to go on a trail a few years earlier, I probably would have, but the benefits and opportunity were never presented to me as they had been during the pandemic. During some of the most uncertain times, my bike has served as a gateway to self-discovery, clarity, and fused purpose.
Over the years, I’ve fallen in love with the activity and movement that cycling requires; and I’ve fallen in love with the local trails and being outdoors while engaging in physical activity. I have also realized that these activities come with a social component that has enhanced my experience.
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Who knew my bike purchase would lead to me re-engage with the outdoors and nature, plus allow me to access and connect with an entirely new community of people? I have been able to inspire my family and friends throughout my journey. Why wouldn’t I want to share these amazing experiences and extend exposure? The more immersed I became in outdoor activity, specifically visiting the trails, the more I gained a better understanding of a need, a purpose and an alignment. I realized that I needed to become more intentional about getting others out on the trails. These are safe spaces that are open to us all to enjoy. Helping other people explore trails and the outdoors has become a personal mission of mine. And thankfully, in Pennsylvania, we’re lucky to have access to so many wonderful trails and even connected trail networks, such as the regional Circuit Trails and the cross-country Great American Rail-Trail®, which will ultimately form a seamless route between Washington, D.C., and Washington State.
My friends who were following my journey would always ask me how they could get started, or what they could do to become more active, or how do they find safe trails to visit? I can recall being on a group hike and thinking to myself, “how cool would it be to create a space and community like this for my family and friends?” Thus, I started to integrate walking along my favorite trail, the SRT, into my programming I offer for women and girls.
To this day, I have had numerous visits to this trail, with my family, friends and other community members alongside me, biking, walking and hiking. We have shared space, many laughs, some tears and valuable conversations about life experiences. These are moments I value as they have really fostered a sense of community and belonging. I also can appreciate the awareness-raising that has taken place. Now more than ever, I hear people in my community talking about getting out and active on a trail that is near and dear to me; because of an initial engagement through programming that I have led, they feel empowered to revisit the space and go farther. I have had many amazing trail experiences, and my most favorite trail moments have been those that I have shared with family and friends while building community.
The Circuit Trails is an innovative, regional urban trail network connecting people of all ages to jobs, communities and parks in Greater Philadelphia and New Jersey. Currently in progress, the project will eventually encompass 800 miles of trails on both sides of the Delaware River, building upon the region’s existing active transportation infrastructure.