The following is the second of several profiles of folks who have discovered their adventurous side in our GetHiking!, GetBackpacking! and GetExploring! programs. Read the first, on Susan Levy, a graduate of our GetBackpacking! program who is about to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, here.

ExploreMore.Manda1Manda Holden’s people-anxiety kicked in as she pulled up to the Visitor Center at Umstead State Park. It was one of her first outings after being on her back for six months as a result of back surgery, and she was concerned about how she would fare on a 3-mile hike. Will everyone be super fit? she wondered. Will I be able to keep up?
Despite practically growing up outdoors and feeling much more confident “out” than “in,” the “dark period” from which she was emerging gripped her as tight as she gripped the steering wheel.
“I almost turned around and left,” Holden says. But she didn’t. She parked, walked to where the group was gathering for an evening hike on the 3-mile Sal’s Branch Trail, took several deep breaths. Before she knew it, she’d fallen in with two other hikers, started chatting and, just like that, the hike was over. That was on September 25, of 2013. It was the fourth hike of the then-new GetHiking! Triangle program. She remembers thinking, “I can’t wait to do this again.” And she has, figuring she’s been on more than 100 of the group’s hikes since.
Holden acknowledges that she’s certainly benefited from the physical aspects of hiking. In addition to her debilitating back surgery, she’d recently lost her father, creating an overall funk. “Depression left me lethargic and unmotivated,” she said.

Manda's journal
Manda’s journal

Since discovering GetHiking!, Holden says she’s lost weight and her energy is back.
But it’s the mental, spiritual and emotional boost she gets from hiking that has made the big difference. Alleviating work-related stress, for instance.
“My work has always been interacting daily with people,” says Holden, who works in retail for a nonprofit. In addition to appeasing customers, she manages a largely volunteer staff, which requires a more nuanced set of supervisory skills. “Hiking is the best escape from that, especially as I turn into a cantankerous old woman,” says Holden, who is 51.
The outdoors has always offered escape for Holden, who has lived in Raleigh for 20 years but grew up in England. Her parents divorced when she was 4, but regardless of whether she was in the Dorset countryside with her mom or at the coast with her dad, she was outside. “We’d leave at 9 in the morning and come back at 8 at night. We’d go to the river, into the woods and make little camps.”
She found that same escape when she arrived in Raleigh in the mid-1990s. Not knowing a soul and with an 18-month-old, she and daughter Lilly would take day-long escapes to Blue Jay Point County Park and into what was then the wilds of far North Raleigh, now known as Wakefield. “We’d wander through pastures, on old roads.”
It was that desire to discover new places — in addition to rehabbing from back surgery — that brought her to GetHiking!
“I like finding little treasures,” she says of the escapes that can be as close as the Cloud Chamber on the N.C. Museum of Art grounds, or on the sylvan hills of Dorthea Dix. Her favorite GetHiking! discovery?
The Shining Rock Wilderness, a vast, open area between 5,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation in the Pisgah National Forest.
“Everywhere you look,” she says, “it’s so elemental, so beautiful.”
Another great discovery: a core group of fellow hikers with whom she has become close friends. They often get together to hike on their own and camp.
An avid journaler, Holden also likes the opportunity to hike at her own pace. “I like to stop if I see a bug, or sit on a shiny rock and have a picnic.” She’ll pull out her sketch book, pencil in a scene, then fill it in later with watercolor.
“I love the mental clarity hiking offers,” says Holden. “It’s totally meditative for me. It’s a total mood lifter.” She smiles and adds, “The trouble is, it makes me want to be outdoors all the time.”