Emily Pennington — Letting Go

Emily Pennington backpacks into Zabriskie Point, Death Valley on her 62-National Park journey.
“As far as I can tell, the liminal void we all feel sometimes, is the rule, not the exception, so we’d better get comfortable with discomfort quickly if we want to accomplish big things in life.”

My lifelong dream: to visit 62 national parks

“One of the hardest things Ive ever had to do actually takes place at the end of my book, Feral. I was raised as your typical type-A, straight A student by a strong immigrant mother, and I attacked my adult life with a similar fervor, losing sleep and stuffing my schedule full of activities and social events. But, on a year-long outdoor adventure that just so happened to take place during a global pandemic, I found myself raw and ragged and more strung out than ever before, because of the inherently grueling nature of non-stop travel and road life.”

Rising above sexual assault

“After being sexually assaulted by a male masseuse while waiting out the tail end of a hurricane in Miami, my body had had enough. The trauma was too much, and I stopped sleeping and became hyper-vigilant. I spent long hours crying on the phone to friends across the country and felt lonelier than I had in my entire life.”
“I realized that, if I was going to complete my massive quest to visit 62 national parks, I would need to change something fundamental about myself and how I approached the world. I would have to learn how to rest and self-soothe. How to be still. How to do nothing when nothing is called for. And how to let go of my rigorous plans in favor of an easier, softer way. I connected with a therapist and a caring doctor to help with my mental state, surrendering to their grace and care.”

Learning to be still

“This act of letting go might seem trivial or cliché at first glance, but it sparked a massive shift in the way I live my life. Sure, I can backpack 15 miles in a single day and pitch a tent in bear country alone if I want to occasionally, but I realized in a bone-deep way that the calmer, quieter, less leg-burning way of communing with the outdoors is equally valid and sometimes more necessary. The journey I chronicle in Feral led me to not only a sense of inner peace, but also more compassion for my fellow humans and greater attention to my mental health.”

My greatest joys

“Its hard not to be joyful when you spend your life traversing some of the most stunning and soul-stirring landscapes on the planet! But a few moments really stand out when I look back on the parks trip–laughing myself silly with Adam and our guide in Gates of the Arctic while we hiked off trail and uphill through the breathtaking Arrigetch Peaks, kayaking through tea-colored water with a new friend in Congaree, and sprinting down Death Valleys Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at sunset with my love in tow.”

My greatest learnings

“You will regret the things you dont do ten times more then the things you set out to accomplish, and you’ll never be younger than you are right now, in this moment, so start saving for that big trip, take the ballroom dance class, or turn your next happy hour into a moonrise hike! Your mind and your body will thank you for the novelty, awe, and wonder.”  



Feral: Losing Myself and Finding my Way in America’s National Parks

Drum roll please … Emily’s memoir Feral: Losing Myself and Finding My Way in America’s National Parks releases on February 1. I’ve preordered my copy and can hardly wait to review it on Brave Books. To pre-order Emily’s memoir click here.

Join the conversation

I had the good fortune and joy to interview Emily as she continues living her dreams in American Samoa. I found her to be an inspirational courage seeker. Often authors can feel like they are writing in a void or hearing from rude bots; Emily and I would love to hear from you. Please join the conversation and comment below. A singular act of kindness can have a profound impact on generations.You never know who you might inspire or where it might lead. 

For  great Book on Inner Peace, check out The little Book of Inner Peace by Ashley Davis Bush. I use several of her ideas in my Calming Practice.

To start your own Calming Practice check out Knowing Acts or try a few free exercises like creating calm through Haiku or Music

To learn more about Emily the National Park Hiker,  click here or watch her Moth StorySlam.

To learn more about US National Parks click here

For more on sexual assault please click here. ; For crisis services call 800-656-4673 or dial 988 for the crisis and suicide helpline. After posting this link, I just heard from two amazing women advocates who work with domestic assault, abuse, and sexual assault survivors. I wanted to share their resources here. The first is Finding our Voices and the second is Helping Survivors. I’ve written about being a part of a Tribe of Transcendence and am grateful for these connections.

To discover other Courage Seekers like Amanda GormanAnn Daniels,or Cheryl Strayed click here.

Join the tribe

Follow our journey through wild lands and inner landscapes. We would love to have you as part of the  conversation and on board by subscribing below. It tke a tribe to hold up the sky.


  1. Wow! Emily Pennington’s soon-to-be-released memoir sounds very inspirational.
    What a monumental task to take on! Trauma and tragedy take their toll on each of us differently and the way each of us copes with those experiences is fascinating to me. I wonder what role writing about her trek played in the healing process. Thank you for bringing her book to our attention — I will certainly seek it out.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Susan! Writing the book definitely helped me intellectualize and process everything that has just happened to my body and mind, and therapy helped to stitch me back together. 🙂

  2. Thanks Susan! For me personally, I found both writing, and pursuing a lifelong dream after surviving trauma, transformational. They allowed me both take time to slow down and also to directly face fear. While I wasn’t able to stop traumatic triggers from coming I was able to better understand them and develop a calming practice. Given your fascination might you have any favorite books you would recommend on coping?

  3. What a monumental quest and rewarding journey to undertake. The life changing rewards, her learning to find inner peace and compassion for others…things people strive for and may never accomplish… had to be a very personal challenge and rewarding outcome. The beauty around her awakened the beauty within Emily.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reflective comment, Susan. I love your poetic line: “The beauty around her awakened the beauty within …” I will remember that as I travel to places nature has blessed.

    • You’re absolutely right! The wild, vast landscapes consistently felt like they were mirroring my inner experience. Nature can be incredibly healing.

  4. Sounds Sounds like a great read! I look forward to its publication. Congrats to Emily—and thanks for bringing this to my attention!

    • Thanks for your comment and enthusiasm Peter. I can hardly wait too! I’ve already bought two copies, one for myself and one for a friend who loves National parks and is traveling to many in her tiny-home type trailer.

    • My hope is that it’s a wild ride through “America’s best idea” that encourages people to sell out nature for personal challenge and healing.

  5. Thank you for bringing a spotlight on this book! These days it is difficult to find inspirational stories and this blog is a welcome oasis!!
    In our frenetic life as women it is so easy to place all other needs ahead of our own. Sooner or later, we will begin to feel cracks as the soul screams for voice. Learning to be still is vital to our mental/physical health. Take the ME time, it will be worth it.

    • So true, Laurie. Thank you for your words of wisdom and your kindness. I love that Emily pushed forward living her own dream. When I embarked on my dream of a lifetime, I certainly carried guilt for focusing on myself, yet the trip opened new horizons, compassion for others, and amazing volunteer opportunities. Taking ME time can allow us to bring joy to ourselves and spread it to others. I hope you’re taking ME time too!

      • All 62 National Parks is daunting. Especially those that can only be reached by boat or plane. Emily’s journey is one I look forward to immersing myself in as I too have a dream to visit and be inspired by the beauty and tranquility of our National parks.

    • I totally agree, Laurie! It was important to me to spend a year off my life going against the gender grain and striking out in a big way to learn more about myself and the parks.

  6. Wow, indeed! So much inspiration and insight about joy, courage, living dreams, and seeking the calm within in this soon-to-be-released book! And being the outdoorsy kind of guy I am, I will fully enjoy and appreciate the treks, the amazing scenes, and all the ups and downs I am sure Emily will be sharing. I know my wife will get the book on day 1, so I might be able to read it on day 3.

    • Haha fingers crossed she’s nice and share it with you. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as it enjoyed writing it!

  7. HaHa, I do hope your wife shares and also that you find some new favorite treks.

  8. Thanks for bringing Emily and her book, Feral, to my attention. There are so many books out there, it’s great to get a recommendation from you for a book a know I will enjoy. I look forward to learning more about Emily’s journey, her self discovery amidst majestic national parks.

    • Hello Eileen,
      Thanks for commenting and for your confidence in my book selection. I try to be selective in my books and interviews to find adventurers and adventure books with heart and survivors and their stories with wisdom. All the best!

    • Thank you, Eileen! My hope is to encourage more people to harness the deep healing power of the outdoors, even if it’s in their own backyard. 🙏🏻

      • Emily, I love the words you used, “deep healing power.” I was writing below to Judy C, trying to describe my experience in Maine’s Acadia NP. I struggled to find the words and then read your post. Yes, for me too I felt a deep healing power, an energy between me and the dense forest.

  9. Judy C writes, “All 62 National Parks is daunting. Especially those that can only be reached by boat or plane. Emily’s journey is one I look forward to immersing myself in as I too have a dream to visit and be inspired by the beauty and tranquility of our National parks.”

    • Hi Judy C., I hope, like Emily, you are living your dream. Our national parks are irreplaceable treasures, a gift for generations. I visited Acadia NP here in Maine last summer—have either of you, Judy or Emily, ever been? Walking on carriage roads at sunrise was awe-inspiring. It felt like my breathing was in sync with these majestic, venerable trees and I could feel their energy, connection, and presence, both as a part of me and also far beyond me. Judy C., we would love it if you came back after your visit to your next park and shared your experience.

  10. ` There are so many aspects of this memoir that intrigue me. Firstly, a modern-day, adult Bildungsroman where a woman overcomes trauma is always for me a tale of inspiration and ultimately, comfort. Secondly, I love the fact that this is a tale of personal and physical adventure taking place in nature. 62 National Parks— what an amazing dream! I can’t tell from the interview whether she accomplishes this feat, or utlimately gives in to the challenge of letting that dream go, in search of a deeper goal to cure her soul and body. Regardless, I imagine I’ll learn quite a bit about the various parks themselves— their terrain and highlights— while learning simulataneously about Emily’s internal journey. Whether it be a tale of climbing mountains, crossing seas or diving deep into the ocean, I’m always captivated by personal journeys taking place in the wild. Thirdly, as shown in this blog, Emily’s writing seems easy to dive into. I’ll defiinitely be checking out this book once it’s published.
    I discovered this blog a couple of years ago when googling Amanda Gorman, and have loved learning about the stories of strength and resilience portrayed here. Thank you for discovering these amazing women!

    • Jennifer! I feel like you are speaking my language, and I so hope that you enjoy reading the book and learn a thing or two about our gorgeous parks in the meantime. 🙂

  11. Tearing up Jennifer. Thanks you for your thoughtful, inspiring, and kind comments. I’m so glad to read that you found this through my interview with Amanda Gorman. I have this belief that singular acts of kindness can have profound impacts on generations. and that we never know whom we might inspire or where it might lead. Anyway you touched my heart today with your kindness and I suspect you’ll touch Emily’s heart too when she reads it.

  12. What a wonderful interview! I can’t wait to read Emily’s book. I loved Emily’s comment about “getting comfortable with discomfort.” Heidi, thank you for introducing us to some amazing women!

  13. Lynn. I think you’ll love her book, being the adventurer you are! Thanks for your comment and for joining us.

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