We Can Do Hard Things: Conquering Mountains & Managing Life’s Challenges

In a world where the pressures of daily life can often feel overwhelming, finding solace in outdoor activities can be a transformative experience. Whether it is hiking, biking or running, trail use has emerged as a powerful tool for improving mental health and overall well-being. Through conversations with Soul Dirt participants who found healing and strength on our mountain trails, we explore the profound impact of outdoor recreation on mental health as we look back on May and Mental Health Month

Conversation with Cajsa: Building Confidence and Finding Friends on the Trails

Cajsa, a relatively new trail user with a passion for mountain biking, shared her journey of self-discovery through outdoor recreation. After her early experiences with mountain biking, Cajsa found herself struggling to enjoy the activity due to the fast pace and lack of guidance. However, after she found a safe place to learn in Soul Dirt, Cajsa realized that mountain biking can be a lot of fun while also providing a sense of community and belonging. “Soul Dirt showed me how nice the trail community is and how supportive it can be.”

For Cajsa, participating in Soul Dirt also meant enjoying the mental health benefits of outdoor recreation. “I was really depressed in high school and was scared to ask for help. I was taught to be strong and think positive, which was really hard as a teen.”


While she—like most of us—still struggles at times, after moving to Eagle County she realized what a privilege being outside can be. “I have so much gratitude for my body because it allows me to find joy in nature. I get so grounded. And it really helps with my anxiety and depression. It’s really beautiful.” Spending time on the trails has helped Cajsa build confidence, connect with supportive individuals, and find peace in nature. “When I am having a hard day I know doing something active outside like hiking a mountain or riding my bike will make me feel better. It forces my mind and energy away from what’s causing me pain and into something good.”

Conversation with Sara: From Adversity to Advocacy

Sara, a health care professional and Soul Dirt ambassador, shared her personal journey of overcoming past difficulties through outdoor recreation. After a period of using substances as a maladaptive coping mechanism, Sara found strength in mountain biking, which allowed her to confront challenges head-on and be present in the moment. Through her role as an ambassador, Sara connects with others on a similar journey of recovery, using her experiences to inspire resilience— underscoring the importance of community support and connection in the healing process.

Sara highlighted the role of outdoor recreation in reducing anxiety and promoting mindfulness, enabling individuals to focus on the present moment rather than dwelling on the past.

She expressed “the profound impact of outdoor activities on my mental health recovery, both personally and professionally.” Being a Soul Dirt ambassador has enabled her to apply her personal experiences in a professional capacity and find fulfillment in giving back to her community. “Just by getting on the bike and connecting with others on the dirt I was reminded of my own capabilities to overcome and was able to give that to others.”

Conversation with Skylar: Integrating Nature into Mental Health Care

Skylar, a Soul Dirt ambassador and integrated behavioral health clinician, has a lot of insight into the evolving landscape of mental health care and the growing recognition of outdoor therapy as a valuable treatment modality. “Since I started my career in social work, I’ve noticed the increasing demand for therapy services and the shift towards holistic approaches that incorporate nature-based interventions. Particularly those that build community and inspire resiliency. That’s why programs like Soul Dirt are imperative.” Skylar emphasized the therapeutic benefits of outdoor activity and the mentally restorative benefits of time spent in natural spaces. Research suggests, nature can help decrease your anxiety levels and can help lessen stress and feelings of anger. Regular access to green spaces has also been linked to lower risks of depression and improved concentration and attention. Drawing on personal experiences, Skylar described nature as a source of grounding and gratitude, “nature is my church, I go in nature and find appreciation for my existence.”

Join Soul Dirt, Build Resilience and Find Community

Cajsa’s, Sara’s and Skylar’s stories underscore the importance of outdoor recreation programs that provide opportunities to challenge oneself in a supportive space surrounded by new trail friends. 

Soul Dirt participants love the free VVMTA ambassador-led activities, including group hikes and mountain bike rides. When people can safely access outdoor spaces in our community, they are able to experience the transformative power of nature—making them healthier in mind, body, and soul.

Whether it’s trekking uphill or getting on a mountain bike for the first time, these experiences can be difficult and scary. Just as overcoming life’s difficulties off the trails, these challenging times can be proof that with a little bit of help, we can do hard things.

To learn more or sign up for a Soul Dirt event, email shawna@vvmta.org or go to vvmta.org/souldirt.

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