Hiking Her Way to Healing

Kara Frahm / Photo by Tracy Walsh

The entry point into our best selves, as addicts, starts with sobriety, but it doesn’t end there. The Phoenix Spirit interviewed Kara Frahm, Director of Business Development at Horowitz Health, to capture her story of how the Superior Hiking Trail healed her. In her words, “Hiking has given me back so much of myself. I’ve figured out who I am, what I stand for, and what I’m capable of doing. Whether you find deep healing in the woods, with a therapist, or your spirit says, ‘I have to start my own band,’ go do that, because there’s a life that’s more than just being sober.” (The interview has been edited for brevity.)

Tell us a little bit about your recovery journey.

I got sober a little later in life than many women – at 45. My drinking had escalated to cope with what was, I now know, a very abusive marriage. Afraid for our one-year-olds’ safety, I got divorced. With support from family and friends, I raised the twins on my own, too busy to think about the pain I carried from that trauma.

So fast forward a bit, I met and married someone without doing any work on myself. I wasn’t sober but wasn’t yet in dire trouble. When the marriage didn’t fix that pain for me, which of course it couldn’t, I upped my alcohol intake until the scales flipped. I became a daily drinker. Instead of addressing the abuse, I went deeper and darker into that pain.

I agreed to go to treatment at Hazelden – my family’s choice – for 30 days. I felt relief at having a break from feeling suffocated by all the things of life. At Hazelden, doctors diagnosed me with severe depressive disorder, but I didn’t hear, or couldn’t absorb, information about where the pain came from. I did well for a few months, then relapsed for another year. When an incident happened that scared me, I realized that there could be horrible consequences if I wasn’t sober. I chose Fairview Lodging Plus for 30 days. On May 19th, almost 10 years ago, I walked into the most amazing women’s group. They taught me about the pain, the trauma, how to tap into it, and how to look at it. They held me up until I could stand on my own. I owe that group of women my life. I haven’t had a drink since.

How did you start hiking?

I was never a hiker. In high school, I was in choir, debate club, and a cheerleader. At that time, the message was still “girls will be girls and boys will be boys.” Physical Ed classes were horrific; if you weren’t a winner, you got benched. One day, six years ago, recently divorced, when the twins were off doing whatever high school seniors do, I said, “I’m going to drive to Mankato state park, see the waterfall, and hike.” A half-hour into the trip, crawling out of my skin and in tears, afraid of being by myself, I called my sisters. They said, “You’re going to do this. You don’t have to walk. Look at the waterfall, get in your car, go home, or stop for ice cream.” I drove down there. I didn’t hike, but I saw the waterfall. It shouldn’t be a big thing to go look at a waterfall, but that moment was big, because I did it by myself.

I fell in love with hiking! I went on a mission to chase every state park waterfall. Later, I got bored with the little parks and little hikes. I had this burning desire to find a bigger challenge, to get into the guts of the woods, something with more elevation. I’ve always loved the North Shore, which is probably how my brain found the Superior Hiking Trail, or maybe it was on Facebook or Google.

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Did you take a friend, or go by yourself?

Hiking helps my recovery because for me it wasn’t just about the drinking. It was about pain, low self-worth, not being content, the depression and darkness. Hiking is the opposite of that.A friend went with me to the state parks during the pandemic. However, since starting the Superior Hiking Trail, I’ve done it 100% on my own! It’s not easy to hike 8 to 10 miles alone on the trail. I’m proud of myself because it’s an accomplishment. I’ve done over 200 miles with 100 to go.

I hiked popular sections first, like Gooseberry and Tettegouche State Parks. Next, I ventured out on other trails. My family said, “We’re really worried about you, being up there alone.” So, I got great tools. I use both the Avenza Superior App and AllTrails, a live, interactive app that tracks your location. Avenza lets you buy the whole Superior Hiking Trail map. It keeps me on course. Plus, my daughter follows my location all day, every day.

At times, the hair sticks up on the back of my neck when I hear a sound or get in my head. I carry bear spray; not that I think I’ll ever see a bear, but having it helps my brain to settle. I bought good boots. I bring plenty of water, the right amount of protein and snacks. I learned that the hard way, by making mistakes, as we do in life. I got dehydrated hiking Ely’s Peak, a big climb. I’d already done 10 miles that day, it was hot, and I finished with the peak, a big mistake. I ran out of water. I was lucky. Someone at the peak gave me water. I finished, but never again. Now I always take double water and electrolyte packets.

Kara Frahm / Photo by Tracy Walsh

Does someone bring you supplies or meet you at certain points?

I don’t camp on the trail. I car camp at state parks where there’ll be other people. My average hike is 10-to-13-miles. I drive up early in the morning, do a Saturday and Sunday hike and come home, but I’ve done one-day and four-day trips. Plus, I’ve made friends with the shuttle drivers. They pick you up at your camping location, take you to your beginning spot, and you hike back to your car. They’re angels because they always say, “If something happens, if you get stuck out there, text me, or call me, and I’ll get help to you.”

Have you had any physical impacts: good or bad?

A bad car accident two years ago damaged my neck and back. It’s still healing. Because of the nerve damage from that accident, I hurt my knee. Last year, six miles was the most I could tolerate. I kept hiking, listened to my body, slowed down, took deep breaths, and kept going. If my knees aren’t feeling well, I do shorter hikes. I use hiking poles now, too, which I swore I wouldn’t, until I realized that these knees are not twenty anymore. Hiking poles distribute the weight. You can get over boulders, logs, and up ravines without worrying about falling and breaking your arm, wrist, or hand.

How did hiking the Superior Hiking Trail impact your sobriety?

People ask me “Why are you hiking all the time?” Being sober and going to meetings are wonderful foundation builders; but I needed deeper healing. I did therapy. I went to treatment. I take antidepressants. But something was still missing. I found a correlation between hiking and deeper healing of my heart and my spirit. I never had confidence in myself. Hiking built my confidence as a mom, sister, daughter, and an employee.

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I’ve conquered fears. I’ve gained self-esteem, a positive internal feeling that I can do anything, because I’m proving it by putting one foot in front of the other. Hiking helps my recovery because for me it wasn’t just about the drinking. It was about pain, low self-worth, not being content, the depression and darkness. Hiking is the opposite of that. I go hiking to remind myself, “I’m powerful. I have a Higher Power. That’s my church.”

My Higher Power cared enough about me to push me to go hiking. He or She knew that’s what I needed to find peace. I felt led there. In the woods, I rely on two things: myself and my Higher Power. When I get anxious, I let go of control, and rely on God. I can rest easy in the fact that even though I’m alone, I’m never alone. We don’t know where our journey is supposed to end. I don’t have control over that, even in my house. So, I might as well go out and enjoy life. Staying home, isolated, and drinking killed me a lot more than hiking ever will.

On the ride up, I use a quiet playlist – soft ballads and spiritual music. Then the first mile is always strange. I’m settling in; getting used to being on the trail. There’s weird fears, like “What’s that noise?” As soon I get to the second mile, it’s almost meditative, I’m in the moment.

At the last mile, I’m a little weary, tired of the walk: “Oh my God, I’m never going to make it!” But yeah, I’m going to make it. I’m going to finish strong. I’m going to check off one more chapter of this trail. There’s something so rewarding about the end point – taking off the sweaty boots, getting some ice cream, and celebrating the achievement. On the way home, I roll the windows down, turn the music up in the car to loud 70s and 80s rock, and that’s when it’s just good living!

The highest peak in Minnesota is Eagle Mountain. Have you have been there yet?

Nope. I’m saving it for last. I can’t wait for that moment! I try not to put myself too far ahead, but the thought of that last section and it being the highest point is exciting. I’m going to invite family, if they’d like to join me, so that I finish with my loved ones.

Mary Berg is a retired associate professor of clinical education, a resume writer, published author, and poet. Her first poetry collection, A Mystic in the Mystery: Poems of Spirit, Seasons, and Self will be released in 2024. Her website is: marybergresumewriter.com.

Last Updated on May 8, 2024

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