By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
In the midst of a “season of singleness,” Brittney Davis would go hiking by herself at Ruffner Mountain in Birmingham and just get lost.
“I’d be out there all morning, and it was just peace for me,” she said.
That was in 2011. Since then, Davis has returned several times—but now she brings along dozens of friends.
Davis is founder of Ladies Who Hike, a group that meets monthly to provide an outlet for women of color to enjoy the outdoors, share positive energy, and destress from their hectic lifestyles.
The women get out of the city and into the beauty and serenity of nature, finding a different trail to hike for each excursion. They’ve gone to several Alabama locales, including Ruffner Mountain and Red Mountain in Birmingham; Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden; Moss Rock Preserve in Hoover; and Turkey Creek in Pinson; as well as Stone Mountain in Georgia and Ruby Falls in Tennessee. In August, the group will travel to the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
Given her personal experience, Davis realized the value of solitude and intimate spiritual time, and she knew other women would benefit from it, too.
Davis recalled a favorite spot in Ruffner Mountain: “There was this one particular trail that had a swing attached to a tree that overlooked the mountain. I would take my Bible out there, just sit, read, and have that calmness with God.”
The trips have also benefited members like Shannon Moore, of Aliceville, Ala. whose hikes have helped her battle depression. And Tamikeo Wilson, of Trussville, whose trips have helped her with weight loss.
Davis, who lives in Birmingham’s downtown Loft District, said the scenic change provides a much-needed mental reset.
“I guess it’s just the atmosphere: the wind blowing, the trees, the different smells,” she said. “The whole experience is just freeing.”
Ladies Who Hike also provides an alternative outlet for the women to embrace themselves and one another in a “positive, drama-free, no-competition atmosphere, where they can be outdoors and enjoy nature and each other,” Davis said. “My group is mostly [made up of] African-Americans, but we are all-inclusive. Many members tell me they are grateful to have an outlet [that enables them to] come together and experience nature.”
Davis, 31, a Mobile, Ala., native, said, “Honestly, [I] just naturally love nature.
“I was a single woman trying to find my purpose, trying to grow closer to God, and I felt closest to Him when I was outside in nature,” she said. “There’s just something about being out, having that fresh air and the peace of being one with nature.”
In 2017, Davis, a realtor with Birmingham-based Keller Williams and Associates and University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) alum, said it was time to officially create the group when she had gone hiking with a friend and someone said, “It would be nice to expose people to this.”
“[Afterward], I decided to send a text to all of my closest friends and invite them out. We had such a good time,” said Davis, who manages the hiking schedule and selects the trails. “They said, ‘We have to continue this. We have to do this every month.’”
The first hike to Ruffner Mountain in March 2017 attracted a total of 19 women. Since then, the outdoor sister circle now numbers 262 and benefits participants in several different ways, changing and enhancing the lives of the women involved.
“A lot of women say they enjoy the sisterhood and being able to be around like-minded, positive women,” Davis said. “For some, it gives them an outlet as part of their self-care regimen; it helps with their mental clarity. For others, it’s their exercise for the month, their social hangout. … Friendships have been developed.”
Magic of Sisterhood
For Moore, Ladies Who Hike has helped her battle depression, regain a sense of self-esteem, and experience the magic of sisterhood.
“I was seeing my therapist, and she suggested that I start doing things I love. I love nature and the outdoors,” said Moore, a 31-year-old Aliceville, Ala. elementary school teacher, who joined in June 2018.
She was drawn to the group because it appeared to be geared toward black women and, she said, “I like high-intensity workouts.”
“I know I love going to the park, [too]. I thought, ‘Well, hiking is not only [a trip to] the park but it’s also kind of like a high-intensity level climb,’ so I thought I’d give it a try,” Moore said.
Wilson, 55, a mother of three, said she fell into a deep depression after her divorce 10 years ago and “ate” her feelings. After reaching a weight of more than 300 pounds, Wilson decided to make a change in 2016, when she began making preliminary lifestyle modifications to prepare for gastric-sleeve surgery, a procedure that reduces the size of the stomach to restrict food intake and induce weight loss.
Two years after her operation, Wilson was down more than 100 pounds. She joined Ladies Who Hike in 2018—going on her first hike with the group in October, when they went to Turkey Creek in Pinson—and looks forward to climbing the trails as a fun addition to her fitness plan.
“I had always dreamed of going hiking,” said Wilson. “In my first meeting with my surgeon, she asked me what I wanted to do. I said, ‘Tie my shoes and go hiking,’ but I didn’t know where to start.”
Since joining the hiking club, Wilson said, “I have a lot more confidence in myself. I’m smiling more [and] getting a lot of good feedback. … It’s a good feeling because I can hold my head up. You can hold your head up when you feel better about yourself.”
During her time with the group, Wilson has shed another 30 pounds.
Ladies Who Hike helps women build morale, compassion, and patience, as well.
“It’s teaching me to be more compassionate to people because everyone has different physical abilities,” said Davis. “Sometimes it can get frustrating when people slow us down on the trail, but it’s teaching us all how to be patient with each other. It’s definitely teaching me to be a better leader and how to keep my calm in any situation.”
Hiking requires both mental and physical stamina, Davis added.
“It’s challenging, for sure,” she said. “We hiked to one of the highest peaks at Ruffner Mountain, so we had to take breaks, but everybody completed the hike. I remember how accomplished we all felt when we got to the top, [which took] about an hour and 10 minutes.”
Once at the top of the mountains, “our hikes include a toast . . . where we celebrate our accomplishment of conquering steep trails and rough terrain,” said the team leader.
In addition, the trips have exposed many women to an activity they never considered.
“They feel accomplished,” Davis said of the participants. “Being able to take on the challenge of completing very difficult trails is something many of them never thought was possible because they hadn’t been exposed to [hiking trails] and had never been on a hike.”
The ladies all “win” in their own individual ways, Davis added.
“They feel invigorated and inspired to take on life,” she said. “Tackling such challenging trails gives you a sense of accomplishment, and you can equate that to life. It’s like, ‘If I can conquer this, I can conquer anything else.’”
For more information on Ladies Who Hike, check them out on Instagram @ladies_who_hike.