View over bleak looking Clywidan Hills on Offa's Dyke Path. There's lots of green bracken in the foreground, a few white houses in the middle ground with barren looking hills under a dark grey sky behind.

Going Out I Found Was Really Going In (John Muir)

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir

What Does It Mean?

I love the part of the John Muir quote “going out I found was really going in” because it reminds me how a hike (or a walk) can come full circle. I’m sure it means different things to us all, but what it means to me is that we might go out to immerse ourselves in nature and landscape, but often discover that the experience deeply, even profoundly, affects who we are. John Muir couldn’t have put it more succinctly. And

It’s precisely how I feel about the national trails I hiked in 2021: Going Out I Found Was Really Going In

The 3 trails were:

  1. The South Downs Way (100 miles)
  2. The Cotswold Way (100 miles) and
  3. Offa’s Dyke Path (177 miles)


Stephanie Boon hiking Offa's Dyke Path in a summer heatwave (sweating buckets!) with hills in the background

Sweltering heat on Offa’s Dyke Path

I confess I’ve been self-absorbed thinking about the ‘going in’ part of the quote: I can never pass up an opportunity for self-reflection.

It’s something I do without realising tbh, when I’m walking familiar ground, or staring out of a window, even sitting here staring at a screen. Whether you write your thoughts in a journal or let them float away on the breeze it’s definitely worth an hour of your time. That’s because it can show you what hiking can do for you beyond the stunning views and being in the moment, finding peace or fun.

Here, then, are some of my thoughts about last year’s hikes and “how going out I found was really going in“.

A Barrier And A Break Through

The sun rises over misty hills with a row of silhouetted trees in the middle distance.

Sunrise from a wild camp on Offa’s Dyke Path 177 mile national trail

I used to think that backpacking a few hundred miles was nothing to write home about because it’s not something I find particularly challenging. But that’s because I compared myself to people who walk for months on end or in difficult terrain, or who challenge themselves to break records.

I knew I could do that too (and want to), but what I lacked was the opportunity or luck. After all, I didn’t have a well-paid job that could pay for all the equipment and travel, or a house to sell or a flat to rent out so that I could head off to explore.

Conversely, what I have is bouts of serious illness and other commitments that mean I can’t be away from home for long periods of time.

But the most serious thing I had to deal with was the massive barrier in my own head, and I just couldn’t see a way around it.

Even though of course, I’m fully aware that other people have their own challenges to overcome, this barrier left me in stasis for years. That is until last year when I decided to break through the barrier.

Investing In Self-Belief

A view across a dry stone wall to faint hills on the skyline. The sky is a hazy pinkish blue and there are green and yellow fields below. There's a dead tree framing the picture on the left.

A blistering heatwave on the Cotswold Way national trail

2021 was the year I finally decided to invest in myself and believe I was worth it. And I have my son to thank for that. Without his encouragement and persuasion to do it, I’d probably still feel lost and stuck. The investment was a decision to spend some of my emergency funds on hiking. (You can find out why I did it and how I paid for the hikes here.)

The shift in believing I’m worth investing in is the biggest lesson hiking taught me last year.

Not only has it given me a much-needed dose of self-belief, but so many other opportunities I couldn’t foresee. Some of these opportunities include fresh ideas for writing and making trail art, and for sharing my experiences with you.

In fact, the hikes had such a positive effect all round that I hope I’ll invest in myself without too much persuasion next time!

Nurturing Resilience

Self-belief is top of the investment list though. There are things that so many of us (with or without a depressive illness like me) need to recognise in ourselves and nurture, and hiking can help us do that. It’s an ongoing process, but I’m beginning to see I’m more resilient than I believed. Maybe I don’t bounce back quickly from depression, but I know I’m tenacious and that belief can help me through.

But reflection gives me the opportunity to notice times when I have shown resilience. For example, when I hiked the South Downs Way (the first hike I did in 2021) I came down with a virus and exhaustion, and then severe weather set in.

I called for help in the middle of the night fearful that trees would fall in the 50mph winds and I didn’t have the energy to walk to safety.

I couldn’t have been more grateful for the help I received but a deep sense of shame crept in the following day: maybe I didn’t really need help and I’d just wasted people’s incredibly precious time, and I wasn’t worth it.

A close of my face with closed eyes and looking very green and ill on the South Downs Way

Looking as rough as rats (and feeling worse) during illness and severe weather on the South Downs Way hike

Resilience Of Mind

I forced myself to answer a question though: if I was leading a group (I’m a Lowland Leader) and someone was this ill, what would I do, what would be the sensible thing to do? Call for help. It was at that moment I decided to be kind to myself and I ‘bounced back’ and let go. It wasn’t just the resilience of dealing with a difficult situation, it was more profound, for me, because it was a resilience of mind.

Stormy, brooding clouds over a green landscape lit up by the sun you can't see

‘Going Out I Found I Was Really Going In’ began to make sense after a storm on the South Downs Way.

Then you realise that when you’re hiking you’re constantly assessing situations and making decisions that affect your safety and comfort. Whether it’s finding water in 30-degree heat for the next 15 miles on a remote stretch of Offa’s Dyke Path or searching for somewhere to pitch your tent when you’re surrounded by cattle (including bulls)…it all builds a picture.

A small green tent is in the foreground with a line of trees behind. A reddish sun can be seen low through the trees and the sky is a soft pink. The perfect summer sunrise on a hot day to come.

Sunrise on the first night’s wild camp on the Cotswold Way national trail

However, unless you look back you won’t see the full picture. And it’s the full picture that gives us a means of reframing how we see ourselves. Perhaps this is the best reason then to reflect on John Muir’s own reflection that “Going out I found is really going in”.

It Means Go Deep

So next time you look back at your hiking photos, look a little deeper. Because somewhere in there there’s more than selfies and pictures of mountains and cloud inversions, there’s also a picture of you.

Thanks for reading.

Happy hiking

Stephie x

Where To Next?

If you’ve enjoyed Going Out I Found Was Really Going In (John Muir) you might also enjoy The Benefits of Hiking: Filling Up On The Outside. The benefits might not be what you think!



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