Humans of Harker: Hiking for headspace

Ian Williamson basks in nature


Shinjan Ghosh

“We’re surrounded by such a talented and hardworking community. I think that’s definitely pushed me to work harder and be a better person than I would be if I didn’t go here,” Ian Williamson (12) said.

As he takes one step after another, Ian Williamson (12) feels the trail beneath his feet begin to level out. Sunlight shines down on him as he wipes a small bead of sweat from his face. Hands falling to his knees, he stops to catch his breath before pushing himself back up to take in his surroundings. An assortment of trees and small buildings lie past the trails below him. Mountains line the horizon with a blanket of fog separating them from the bright blue sky. When he reaches the top, Ian admires the view from the end of the Wildcat Loop Trail at Rancho San Antonio Preserve.

Like many other students, Ian felt trapped inside the four walls of his bedroom at the beginning of the pandemic. Although playing video games allowed him to keep in touch with his friends, he missed seeing them in person. For him, it often felt like he was stuck living the same day over and over again. Looking for a solution, he began going outside more frequently and discovered that spending time in nature helped refresh his mindset.

“Especially during quarantine, I’ve picked up running,” Ian said. “Not competitively or anything, but just to release energy because I’m sitting at the same desk all day, so it helps a lot with stress.”

After discovering that running improved his mental state, he decided to try other outdoor activities as well. Since Ian lives near many hiking trails, he began visiting them with friends and family as an alternative to seeing each other on screens. 

“Hiking has helped me so much in quarantine. Especially right now, it’s really accessible compared to other group activities where you might be closer to each other. Also, it’s a good way for me to clear my head and slow things down,” Ian said.

In addition to relieving stress, activities like hiking have allowed Ian to maintain friendships with people he does not get to see often. Freshman at American University and close friend Davi Lavi moved to Texas before high school, but over the years he and Ian have visited each other many times. Hiking together allows them to communicate more easily and experience a change in scenery from their bedrooms. 

“Since I moved, most of our interactions are either over the phone or on FaceTime. When we’re in person, we like to be outdoors a lot, whether that’s playing sports, swimming or hiking,” Davi said.

Although he has begun hiking recently, Ian has always enjoyed participating in outdoor activities. Since freshman year, he has played baseball on the school team, and every year he looks forward to the beginning of the season in the spring.

“Even though it takes more time after school, it’s a really good way to bond with my teammates and have a good time under all the stress that school brings,” Ian said.

While spending time in nature, he is able to not only connect with his friends from school but also interact with them outside the class environment. For instance, Kai Burich (11) spends most of his time with Ian playing trumpet together for jazz band, but going on hikes with Ian has allowed Kai to appreciate a different side of his personality. 

“It’s a lot of fun because he’s an easy person to talk to,” Kai said. “My favorite thing about him is how open he is. He never turns down an opportunity and he’s always up for something new.”

Ian’s outgoing nature extends beyond trying new activities in quarantine. Over the years, upper school biology teacher Mike Pistacchi, who is Ian’s adviser, has observed his interactions with other students in their advisory. Although they often participate in heated discussions, Pistacchi admires how Ian can always lighten the atmosphere and bring people together. 

“He’s always a positive influence,” Pistacchi said. “Even if people get negative or things get controversial, Ian’s always looking for a way to see the bright side and bring a positive view to things.”

Teachers like Pistacchi, as well as friends from school, have helped shape Ian’s high school experience. He reflects on the past few years and expresses gratitude for the people who have both supported and inspired him in his journey.

“We’re surrounded by such a talented and hardworking community,” Ian said, “I think that’s definitely pushed me to work harder and be a better person than I would be if I didn’t go here.”

Due to his new sense of motivation, Ian was able to explore many outdoor activities during quarantine. The experiences he shares with his friends in this time give Ian hope for the future and motivate him to persevere every day.

“We don’t know when [quarantine] is going to be over, but that time will come,” Ian said, “I know that if I’m working hard now, and I continue to stay focused, I’ll feel a lot better about myself once quarantine is over.”