I went hiking (for the first time in years!) this past weekend with some friends in the beautiful Mount Charleston area of Nevada. I realized as I was trudging through the forested area that the entire hike was a metaphor for life. Here are five lessons I learned from hiking that go way beyond the hike itself.
You can’t succeed if you don’t try
Are you afraid to try a new trail? Does it seem impossible to hike? Does it completely overwhelm you to think about? I didn’t think I could tolerate a hike. I just didn’t think I was physically capable. But I decided to try without expectations. Once I got on the trail I realized the hike was going to be even more strenuous than I first thought, but I was there, committed, and eager to try it. So I told myself to just go as far as I could and that would be enough. The more I walked the easier it became. My only goal was to hike as long as I could. I couldn’t fail at this. I could only fail if I didn’t try. I wonder how many other things I’m capable of doing but haven’t tried yet. Don’t let fear of failure prevent you from going after something you want. Just start going, see how far you get, improve your abilities, and keep going.
Encouragement from others can keep you going
We’re all in this together. You might have to carry your body up the trail alone, but there are plenty of people on the path who are traveling with you. Encourage each other. Cheer each other on. Share resources, help each other. It doesn’t matter if others pass you on the trail. You could just as easily pass them later. It’s not about who gets to the top first. Enjoy the camaraderie of the hike. Share the beauty of life. You are not alone.
It’s about the journey, not the destination
If all you care about is reaching the summit you’re missing the point of life and the beauty of the hike. Life is to be enjoyed, every step of the way. There may be an amazing view at the summit, but there is just as much beauty along the trail. Enjoy the fresh air while you climb. Enjoy the smell of the pine as you traverse the trail. Listen to the twittering of wildlife along the trail. Feel the warm sun on your skin and the cool breeze on your body. Be present while you climb and take note of the beauty all around you. What would happen if you didn’t make it to the summit and you didn’t bother to enjoy the journey? Then your life will be filled with disappointment and it will feel empty. Enjoy the journey because it is filled with its own peaks.
It’s okay to stop and catch your breath
Sometimes it seems like you can’t go on. You can see the path, it’s wide open. But you’re tired, and you just can’t continue. It’s okay to rest. Take a breather. Slow down. Take stock. Ask for help even. The hike I just went on was at high altitude and I had a hard time catching my breath, especially going uphill the entire time. I literally stopped to catch my breath every couple of minutes. At first I was really disappointed with myself, but then I realized that if that was the only way to make it to the top, then I could easily accept that pace. The alternative was to push myself so hard that I passed out and couldn’t continue at all. Don’t let others push you beyond your limits either. Go at your own pace, but keep going.
Also known as growing pains. When you step out of your comfort zone, when you push yourself, sometimes life slaps you down a little. Think of these as battle wounds; wounds you would never have received if you weren’t in the game at all. Soreness after a hike is an indication of growth, an indication that you’ve pushed yourself to the limit and beyond. And how does the body respond? By knitting you back together stronger, because you’ve told the body where you’re going and what you’ll need to get there and the body responds by making you stronger and more capable of withstanding the rigors you’ll face. So embrace the soreness, the wounds, the injuries, and know that next time you make an attempt you will be much stronger.
I can’t wait to hike again. I want to experience all kinds of different hikes. I like the feeling of pushing my body and being out in nature. Had I been in a gym on a stair climber I think I would have stopped at 5 minutes. On this hike, I climbed for 75 minutes. So, I will hike again, but it really doesn’t matter to me if I ever reach a summit. To me the summit is my willingness to hike the trail in the first place.