Meet Jesse Cody — mental health advocate, Founder of Hike The Good Hike, and Friend of Ned.
He was in a very dark place mentally — then life brought him to the Appalachian Trail. Despite never having so much as pitched a tent in his life, he kept putting one foot in front of the other. Five years and 7,500 miles of trails later, he’s made it his life’s work to help people heal through nature. Jesse’s currently hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in partnership with The Youth Mental Health Project, but he took some time out to chat with us about mental health and nature therapy.
Ned: How would you describe yourself?
Jesse: At this point in my life I find myself a bit of a leap taker. I have strong feelings about the universe and it’s plan for me, so I’m always looking for signs that are pointing me in a certain direction. I believe in what I’m doing with mental health advocacy and keep pushing forward with my journey in its message believing it’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
Ned: What are the core values that guide you in your daily life?
Jesse: Stay the course, believe in my own and my organization, Hike the Good Hike’s ability to make a difference, and lead with empathy.
Ned: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Jesse: Keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve basically been told by so many that I need to keep moving forward with my message and this honest story of mental health struggles of mine. We need more stories of inspiration and I’m very proud so many see mine as a source of this type of inspiration.
Ned: What’s something you’ve learned this past year?
Jesse: That we, if willing to change our daily routine, can accomplish a lot in the face of adversity. Covid was an extreme challenge but instead of sitting back, waiting for the country to bounce back, I pressed harder on the gas to build HTGH. I made a move to Santa Fe, NM and looked for purpose and inspiration. It sparked me and gave me a focus that helped me get through some long overdue doors.
Ned: What’s wellness to you?
Jesse: Taking care of mind and body. We can always do better with either or both, but truly finding the places and the routines that work best for you is so important in life. Obviously, I use the wilderness and wilderness exploration to balance both these needs in life. I feel such a deep connection to nature that it’s been a life changing need that gives me the wellness I crave.
Ned: What’s your idea of contentment?
Jesse: Laying in the back of my camper truck or tent. Either I’m writing or reading with a little Bruce Springsteen on in the background. It’s usually in a place that I’ve described where I have a breathtaking view, some fresh air, sounds of nature and I’m just relaxed, into my environment and most certainly content.
Ned: What’s your best mental health tip?
Jesse: Get away from things you recognize as chaos. For me, it’s the surroundings of the city. It just didn’t mesh with the issues I was having with my mental health. It fed it and caused such damage. Find an environment that’s peaceful. Woods, ocean and beyond. Allow beauty and peacefulness to be all around you when you need to have some difficult conversations with yourself. I can guarantee it will quiet the negative voices.
Ned: How do you manage stress?
Jesse: This is obvious, but hiking or trail running. No matter where I find myself, I make a point to find the closest ponds, reservoirs, woods, trails, etc. and make a point to get an hour or two in one of these places daily. I recognize what I need, and I make sure I can get it when I’m struggling a bit.
Ned: What’s a super simple practice you do that’s improved your life?
Jesse: Some may not find this so simple, but for me it’s writing. Sometimes a paragraph or two and other times it’s a couple hours. It helps me peel my layers back. It gives me some resolve. It’s been an important part of my healing over the last few years. I have a lot more written than most have seen, and I suppose at some point it will all add up to a book, but I know I still have some chapters to live through, so folks will have to wait. ;)
Ned: What’s the smallest change you’ve made that’s had the biggest impact?
Jesse: Practically living out of my truck. I’ve really simplified my life. I made the decision that I wanted to live in a way that was similar to hiking and living out of a backpack. Vanlife has been that way. It gives me the freedom to see the country and live on the land while I work to build HTGH.
Ned: What’s something you want to start doing?
Jesse: Speaking a whole lot more. I'm very comfortable speaking in public, and I think telling my story and HTGH’s story is one a lot of people can resonate with. I’m looking forward to building a speaking career, and I know it will really help HTGH’s growth and give me a much broader audience.
Ned: What’s something you want to stop doing?
Jesse: I really want to disconnect from streaming TV. More and more I find it’s just a waste of time. Certainly it’s nice to indulge here and there, but there’s so much more I can do with this time instead of watching shows on my computer. I’m really working hard to make a conscious effort to be productive with my time, so bye bye Netflix!
Ned: What’s your favorite morning ritual?
Jesse: Listening to music and writing. Such a great way to start the day. Much better than Netflix. ;)
Ned: What’s your favorite nighttime ritual?
Jesse: More and more it’s reading. Being on the trail as I write this, I always have a book that I dive into to help me drift into sleep. I’m a fan of classics.
Ned: Who do you follow that really inspires you?
Jesse: I’m a fan of men who openly speak of their past issues with mental health, narcissism and living in/being part of a toxic environment. I truly feel inspired by these difficult journeys that lead to a change for the better. I listen to a lot of podcasts and books that share these types of stories. Springsteen is actually one of them. We need more men speaking out about their layers and what they came to realize as they peeled them back and faced themselves.
Ned: What’s something you’re grateful for?
Jesse: Love. There’s so much of it in my life. It’s not always perfect but it’s always present. I often say the trail saved my life, but in actuality it was love. Love of my family, my friends and beyond. Without them and their love I may have never found my way to the trail.
Ned: What’s something that would make the world a better place?
Jesse: MORE EMPATHY… I can’t stress this enough. We are such a visible world now with media, social media and streaming and there’s not enough focus on the empathy we need as a world. We still live in a world where empathy is looked at like weakness. It’s such a poor lesson for our youth. Love and empathy will always win if you actually believe and practice them.
Ned: How has connecting with nature helped you?
Jesse: It makes me whole. It gives me life. I know I can always move forward no matter what stands in my way. Nature teaches me that. It understands me and it also teaches me. Sometimes the lessons are hard (it’s not easy climbing mountains in heatwaves) but it shows me I need to earn the life I want. Mother Nature is one hell of a woman. I owe her so much and it’s the biggest reason I work so hard to build HTGH.
Ned: What does “plants before pills” mean to you?
Jesse: Who wants to take things that are manufactured in a lab when the earth provides natural remedies that are just as, if not more so, beneficial for you? With all this hiking the two things that are most important to me are getting my joints and muscles feeling right and getting the needed sleep to keep me consistent with my daily hiking. CBD has done so much for both of these things.
Ned: What’s your favorite Ned product?
Jesse: Sleep Blend! What a game changer with my sleep during this hike. I usually toss and turn in my tent due to throbbing feet and knees from a long day of hiking but since I started using Sleep Blend it’s day and night. I’m falling asleep much easier and getting more consistent hours of sleep. Now I’m waking up earlier and utilizing the full day to get in solid miles.
Check out Hike The Good Hike and follow Jesse on Instagram.