In 2016, I had the pleasure of working with Erika in my VIP Coaching Program. I knew from the moment we started that she was going to be a client who never stopped pursuing the best version of herself. 

When I saw that Erika was taking on a challenge to summit 17 peaks in 2017, I was immediately inspired to begin a regular blog series highlighting the adventures of women across the states (and world). The idea is to celebrate what our bodies can do instead of the usual focus of what our bodies look like

Erika's journey to better, stronger, and fitter is truly an inspiration as she has created a lifestyle that revolves around healthy choices like fueling her body, getting outside more, and taking on challenges that push her past her limits mentally and physically. 

So, without further ado, let's hear from Erika! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself, including what state do you live in?

Hi! I'm Erika Barrett and I live in Tucson, Arizona. I am a research coordinator at the University of Arizona (Go cats!) and a dog-mom to Rocky George - a ridiculously curious boxer. I am a jack of all trades which means I'm multi-passionate, an overachiever, and constantly searching for new opportunities to learn and improve.

What first inspired you to take on the goal of climbing 17 peaks?

Living in Tucson, we are blessed to be in an area with many mountains and trails to explore. I was always impressed by my family and friends who rock climbed and hiked but have always thought I could never be that person. I could never call myself a "real hiker." For that reason, I think this goal has always been there, but this year I have the courage to see if I can do it. For a challenge to really be a challenge, I think it also has to be nearly impossible. 17 peaks in 2017 seemed fitting, and also scary enough!

What has prepared you physically to be able to take on challenges like this?

 I worked with Rachel at the end of last year through her VIP program, and it really motivated me to push past my limits and turn "cant's" into "cans." It was the first time I could say I really committed to my health, and I really reaped the benefits from my consistency. She mixed cardio with strength training days which made me significantly stronger and improved my cardiovascular endurance. This makes the hard hikes enjoyable even when I feel exhausted!

What's the highest peak you plan to climb this year?

I plan to climb a 14'er in Colorado at the end of the summer! Before I started this challenge, I didn't even know what a 14'er was. It sounds fun and grueling - I'm excited!

Tell us about your favorite trekk so far? What was your favorite part? How did it challenge you mentally and physically?

I have climbed 3 peaks so far in 2017. My favorite hike has been Picacho Peak in Picacho, AZ. Picacho has always been a landmark on the highway from Tucson to Phoenix. Growing up in Tucson, I've passed this peak hundreds of times in my life. I know many people who have climbed this peak, but again, I've always made up an excuse to why I couldn't do it. This adventure is more of a rock scramble and climb than a hike. My favorite part of this trekk was the portion right after the saddle, it's basically a 500 ft drop in elevation with a rock face on your left, and a cable to help support you on the right. There were many times I thought I was going to die by falling off the mountain. I kept telling myself to be brave, to persevere, you can do it, you're going to survive, etc. The fear of the unknown really challenged me mentally and physically. I didn't know if we were going to make it to the top of the peak, or how in the heck we were going to get down. But we did, and that gives me strength for the next peak.

What lessons have you learned from your first few peaks that have been applicable to your everyday life?

I've learned that I'm capable of more than I thought my body was ready for. I've learned that I really love the calm of nature, and the camaraderie of others hikers on the trails. I used to spend my Friday and Saturday nights out drinking with friends. Now I spend those nights eating a nourishing meals so I am fueled up and ready to go in the morning. The hikes have made me appreciate my surrounding and the environment. Most of all, it's kept me more in the moment instead of dwelling on the past or thinking about the future.

Do you have a list of other states you plan to visit to check off peaks?

Yes! With the heat in summer, hikes are nearly impossible in Southern Arizona from May-October, so traveling to other states/areas of the state is important. So far I have a list of peaks in Northern Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, and Colorado. I am also hoping to take a hike in the Black Forest of Germany this summer, but we will see where the trip takes us!

What piece of advice would you give to other women who are maybe intimidated at such a feat as yours? 

You are stronger than you think! Start small. Make thousands of small choices over many months, and those small choices add up to big results! This time last year, I was tired after a leisurely stroll with my dog. Now, the hills in my neighborhood don't scare me anymore, and thick trail sand is an added level of fun on the hikes. This challenge has never been about the peaks, it's about the thousands of little steps you take to get there. There is joy and beauty in those moments on the trail, if you only lift up your head.

If you could go one place in the world for an outdoor adventure, where would you go and what would you do? 

Internationally: Iceland. The place is crazy, and mostly uninhabitable. I would go ice pick hiking or rafting or to a hot springs. The place has everything! In the US: Asheville, NC. I would go camping in the Great Smokey Mountains or hiking on the Appalachian Trail!