Being an avid hiker, I’m discovering to my wonder what the essence of hiking can teach us, if we’re willing to watch for those moments. Out on the trail, hiking becomes for me a metaphor for living. Perhaps, hiking like many outdoor pursuits simply mirrors life as we know it.
In hiking, as in our lives, sometimes the prize or goal is just over the next hill. We just can’t see it.
To this point in the summer, Lynn and I have been focussing most of our hiking on The Bruce Trail. One of our many outdoors goals is to eventually hike The Bruce’s more than 890 kilometre length. It won’t be this year though!
Since April, we’ve completed most of the Blue Mountains and Beaver Valley sections in and around the Collingwood area. About a week ago, we where back at it! I try to plan a route, so where we finish is also an easy place to start from again. I had chosen a hike, on this particular day, that would finish at a location which would leave only one smaller section of this particular area to complete.
As many of you know, it has been one hot and humid summer. This particular day was no different. It was just hot, hot, hot with little or no breeze in the bush – think sauna. In open areas, you might be able catch a nice breeze that felt so cool against your skin, but unfortunately many times this was offset by no shade.
Lynn’s a great trooper on the trail and has no problem what so ever keeping up. But this day, the heat and humidity was getting to her, as it was to me. I could tell by looking at her, she was quickly fading. Her face was getting redder and redder, not from the sun, but from the heat and she was starting to slow her pace.
I found a shady spot and suggested a break. I’m quite cognizant how heat related issues can get you in a tricky spot medically real quick. She had been drinking plenty of water, and said she felt fine. It was just too hot out.
I suggested, that maybe we should turn around seeing we still had to hike about 2 kilometres back to where we parked. Lynn isn’t one to usually quit, but I could see she was certainly leaning in that direction.
We talked about it and pretty much decided to head back. I then mentioned to her that I was pretty sure that our goal of where I thought we should finish the day, was just over that little hill on the road allowance in front of us.
Not to pat myself on the back, but I’m really good a map reading and knowing where we are. I knew we were close, but wasn’t sure exactly how close. Lynn asked “what will we have to do if we turn around here and go back?” I said, “Well, if we want to finish this section of the Blue Mountains, we’ll need to come back and retrace some of our steps.” I told her, “I thought we where maybe 300 or 400 metres, maybe less from where I wanted to actually turn around. “
The next is my best buddy’s response, “That would be stupid to have to come back and retrace what we’ve already done; geez we’re already here”
I suggested that we take it easy going up the little rise on the road allowance and when we get to the top we could decide what to do.
Up we trekked this small hill, and guess what we saw.
Yup, less than 100 metres down the path was a stop sign ; our turn around point and natures gift to us….. a large maple tree giving us some much needed shade!
That tree provide a beautiful resting spot to take a cool and refreshing drink of water; a bite or two of an energy bar; and to reflect on the fact that we did not quit!
What does this story tell us about life and living?
Well, one thing it tells us, is my less than 100 pound wife is tough as nails, and will kick your butt on the trail.
Here are 3 other things it also tells us:
Sometimes – You Just Have to Stop and Regroup
I’m a bit weird when I get on the trail. I’m not a huge fan of just stopping for no reason. Once I’m in that focussed hiking zone, I hate stopping for the sake of stopping. Once I have a goal in sight, I’m very determined on reaching it. Of course we stop for a multitude of reasons: pictures(Lynn’s favourite which happens numerous times on any hike); food break; water; quick rest break.
When Lynn and I are hiking, and if we’re particularly fatigued or think we are, the one problem I have is my mind. I find it easy to let my mind try to persuade me to quit and turn around. Just trucking along and my mind starts to say, “Turn around; head back.” At that particular point in the hike when the mind is starting to play those silly games, many times the best plan is to stop and regroup.
Life can be exactly like that. How many times does life put us into a difficult situation and our mind tells us to turn around; head back; it’s too tough; quit. Do we do it? Sure, sometimes we do.
Just when Lynn was fading on the trail, the best solution was not simply turn around without stopping. The best solution was to stop, have a break and regroup. In fact, not stopping and simply turning around on the path and starting back could have been the most dangerous thing to do. Lynn needed a break; she was starting to fade. We needed to stop; think this through; see what the real situation was. Rash and poor decisions made in the outdoors can and many times will take you into a world of hurt.
Maybe in our lives, the best thing is to stop; take a quick break; clear our minds and regroup. When we’re in the midst of a struggle, it can be a struggle to make clear and well thought out decisions. It’s in those times, I think, the best strategy is to take a breather and regroup. It’s hard to know if we’re winning the war in the middle of a battle. A clear mind equals clear thoughts.
Once we’ve stopped and regrouped, the decisions coming from those moments can change where we end up.
One more thought. Ever make a rash decision in the heat of the moment that you’ve lived to regret? Enough said
Hardest Part is Just Taking the Next Step
I’m not much of a rocket scientist, but I’ve noticed that at its most basic level, hiking is simply putting one foot in front of the other. Problem is you may have to do it 15,000 times during a 10 kilometre trek.
If we put the physical aspect aside, for me and I suspect for other avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, it’s the mental part that is the toughest.
When the overwhelming desire is to quit and turn back, sometimes taking the next step is the most difficult.
There you are. Out on a the trail. You stopped; you regrouped; thought the entire situation through with great resolve; weighed all the options. We’re going to continue on! Yea for us!
Well, for Lynn she had to get up and take that next step. She had to start the hard work to see what was over the top of the next hill. Even at this point and after making the decision to gut it out and carry on, her mind still might have been saying, “Turn around and quit.”
Lynn didn’t have to take 200 steps to get to the top of that hill. All she had to do was take just one step. Once Lynn did that; just take another; and then another one.
Getting up and taking that next step isn’t always going to appear comfortable or appealing. But, in order to keep moving the next step is always the next step, and it you have to take it in order to continue progressing.
Two hundred steps up a hill; fifteen thousand steps over the length of a hike is a lot of work. It’s pretty daunting if you think about. But, one step isn’t so bad. Everybody can do just one more step. But, you have to take that first step, and that first step can be a tough mental battle.
Lynn just simply put her head down took one step; then another and in just a few minutes, she could see the goal. The turn around point was in sight. Was it tough taking the first step – it was. Did it get any easier going up the hill – I doubt it. But, she just keep going, taking one step at a time. Just focused on what was in front of her. Not worrying about the big picture.
Living is just a series of steps we take over our lifetime. There will be circumstances that will challenge us to our core; make us exhausted dealing with it; make us go grey well before our time. Even after we’ve stopped; taken a break; thought it through with a clear mind; regrouped ourselves; decided we’re going to move forward; we can’t stay sitting there. If we sit for any length of time our mind will likely talk us out of it. We’ll quit and turn around.
So, what are our options?
Like hiking, there are only two options. Yes, you can quit; give in and turn around or we can do as Lynn did. She got up; took one step; and then another. Lynn didn’t know how far it really was. All she knew was the goal was close. You don’t know the future and neither do I.
All we can really do is stop; regroup; evaluate; make a decision and take one step in the direction of whatever you decided.
Lynn didn’t have to take 200 steps all at once. Just take that tough one to get started again. You and I don’t have to solve the big picture all at once. All we need to do is just fit one piece of the puzzle at a time. Take one step and a time.
Life and hiking are the same. It’s just a long series of steps along the way. Sometimes the steps are spectacular; other times downright challenging and exhausting. But, to get to the end all we need to do is simply put one foot in front of the other. There is always a place to put your foot and take the next step. Always!
You Can “See Everything More Clearly” from the Top of the Hill
And you’ve made it.
Isn’t the view from the top of a hill or mountain always fantastic. Worth the effort you spent getting there. The landscape stretching out before your eyes like a master’s painting.
That scene is hard to see when you’re at the bottom though. All you know is that the view is likely great, but will take some work and determination to get there. You need to get to the top though to really, really know. The anticipation and excitement; pushing through the fatigue and pain. Knowing you’re almost to the top. Just a bit further and you’ve made it. One last step; one final push. Open your eyes to the view in front of you. Breath taking!
Goals are like that. We know what the goal is or where we want to go. It might be close or maybe it’s still far, far away. All we know is that we won’t get any closer to it by just sitting there. We need to take that difficult first step along the path to get us up and to keep us moving.
Even though we might not be able to see the end to a situation or know how things will turn out, we need to get up and take that first step to get us moving. In physics, an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Once we’re moving along and the situation becomes clearer to us, we can re-evaluate where we are and what our next steps need to be.
When Lynn made it to the top of that small hill on the road, the goal; the end point for the day, was right in front of her. She could literally reach out and touch it. I think she had a great sense of satisfaction knowing she didn’t give up and quit; knowing she pushed herself outside her comfort zone. To have made the decision to keep going despite the heat and fatigue she was experiencing. Not to quit when so, so close.
Don’t goals and reaching them charge you back up again. Reaching that shady maple tree at the turn around point, gave us the opportunity for a quick rest, a drink of cool water, and a quick snack. A chance to talk about the last 15 minutes; foraging ahead and completing the task that we faced. Was Lynn tired, not wanting to make the 2 kilometre hike back to the car. Nope. She was revitalized and ready to go, knowing that she can always dig a bit deeper and take one more step.
Life and living, just like hiking is a journey of many steps. Challenges will present themselves along the way, that is for sure.. When that happens, maybe the best solution instead of turning around and quitting or just sitting there doing nothing, may be to:
- Just Stop and Regroup
- Take the Next Step
- “See Everything More Clearly” from the Top of the Hill
Thanks for giving this a read. This post holds a lot of emotion and feeling for me. I hope it does for you as well.
Would love to your thoughts on this. I think there is a great dialogue to be had here.
See ya out there!