Things I Learned While Hiking That Apply to Real Life

I started this post months ago. It's actually crazy how many unfinished drafts I have on here. I was finally inspired to finish this one after a wonderful hike this last weekend that reminded me of these important lessons...

Recently my boyfriend Gino and I had (what has become) a very rare opportunity to spend a day doing whatever we wanted. No work, no kids, no grown up responsibilities. In my 20s (before my son and life change) I would have happily spent the day sleeping in, rolled out of bed around 11-12, maybe grabbed a biscuit (or two) and possibly headed up the mountain to some easy to access nice view to enjoy while I ate a burger. Or I might have bypassed the scenic trip up the mountain altogether, ordered out for pizza and spent the day in my jammies for a movie marathon.

That seems so foreign to me now. That actually sounds like an incredibly wasteful and depressing way to spend a day. Now, for some, this may be the perfect way to spend a day off if their life is constantly go go go and they rarely have ever had this opportunity. But I think it's bleak for me because I spent so much of my life having those days. Time seem so finite to me now. Not a moment to spare.

So we rolled out of bed about 6am (so, yes, we got to sleep in!), took care of the last of our adult responsibilities and, around 8:30am, up the mountain for a rigorous 5 mile hike we went. I've done longer hikes, I've done more strenuous but this hike challenged me because I felt like garbage most of the trip. Why? Because I made the stupid impulse decision to get a breakfast wrap (sans wrap of course) on the way out.

By the time we arrived at the top, I had burned off the miserable rock that had sat on my stomach and I was feeling good. We spent what was probably the longest amount of time I've ever spent on the top of a mountain. It was at least an hour. Maybe more. I actually fell asleep at one point and woke up feeling so refreshed and positive. It was a beautiful and perfect moment in time. On my way up and while I laid on the rocks looking at my majestic surroundings, I pondered on how much I've learned on a mountain trail.

1. Enjoy the journey, not the destination. This is probably the most obvious lesson but it's a good one. I've spent some hikes solely focused on the "pay off". That one moment, one spot where all the hard work would add up to a breath taking 360 degree view on God's best work only to get to the top and be covered in a cloud of fog and see nothing. Or, best case scenario, get to enjoy those few moments but at the sacrifice of sometimes hours of hard, grueling work to get there. However, over time I've learned to embrace every moment on the way up. That giant leaf that glows in the middle of the others on the ground, the sun peeking through the trees, the switch backs on the side of the mountain that provide a glimpse of the view that is to come at the top, all of it. The quiet, heavy breathing of you and your companion(s) as you hit the rough spots. I've learned to go inside myself and use that time to find my peace.

Life is very much the same way. I used to live for a vacation, for the weekend, at times even for death and Heaven. I spent so many grueling hours just getting by, all of life seeming like a stressful never ending string of tasks necessary to get to that one moment in time when I would finally be happy, finally be worthy of stopping and looking around. And often I'd finally get to that long awaited moment only to find it (metaphorically) covered in fog.

I shared this parallel with Gino and he made me realize something even more profound. I had fallen into the tendency of never stopping to look at the glimpses of the view I would see at the top because I had grown to think "why bother? The view will be better from the top." But he pointed out that the view is never exactly the same in any two places. This translates into life perfectly. Every moment, every single dot on the timeline of our lives is preciously unique. My son will never be exactly this age again, I will never have this exact perspective of life again. I should always always stop to appreciate the "view" of my life in this exact moment.

2. The more times you forge up the mountain, the more it takes to challenge you. I used to spend my entire hike, from the trail head until I sat down in the car at the end of the hike, absolutely miserable, unable to focus on anything except how unbelievably hard every step was. I constantly had to stop (usually holding up the other hikers and feeling so lame and out of shape) to catch my breath and muster up more strength in my shaking legs to take another little stint before I would have to, inevitably, rest again. However, over the years, I've noticed that it takes longer and a more steep incline before I slip out of the peaceful comfort of the trail into the grueling labored walk to the top.  Don't get me wrong, it happens. But it takes a lot more for it to happen and the people I'm with are usually more than happy to stop and rest too if I ever reach that point.

Just as in real life, the more I am faced with challenges, hardships, the more it takes to distract me from the beauty of life and sink me into the misery of the moment. Every painful, horrible experience I've had in my life has made more and more things that I used to consider unbearable simply a stone in my path that needs only to be stepped over before I move on with my peaceful journey.

3. Don't hike with your hands in your pockets. Anyone who has spent any amount of time on a trail can appreciate this advice even without a metaphor attached. Honestly folks, it's downright dangerous to hike with your hands in your pockets. With trip hazards everywhere, you want your hands free and ready to stop that 8 pound ball on the top of your head from crashing down on the rocks...or at least slow it. Likewise, you never know when the person in front of you is going to snap a branch back in your face. Look alive people. 

This translates to real life perfectly. We need to WAKE UP and stop walking around only half paying attention to what's going on. With distractions everywhere, car accidents are so much higher, I would guess child neglect is too. We need to stop allowing silly distractions to turn our attention away from what's really important. Whether it be the child who is growing up almost unnoticed in the shadow of our phone or the country that is being hijacked by money hungry corporations, or all the not so dramatic things in between, life is passing us by whether we are strolling through life with our hands in our pockets only half paying attention or not.

4. The food you pack will determine the hike you have. This one isn't so thoughtful and metaphorical as the rest but super important nonetheless! I used to look at hiking as the perfect excuse to eat what I wanted because the calories would be torched before they had a chance to cozy into my fat cells. However, over the years I've learned that not taking the time to plan and pack what I was going to eat would usually result in me throwing a candy bar and chips into my pack and then maybe stopping for some fast food on my way out of town. The end result would be an absolute MISERABLE hike! In addition to my stomach making noises that would have some asking "was that a bear?", I could FEEL my body lagging from lack of nutrients and the rush of sugar and unnatural fats. I would end my hike feeling almost hung over sometimes.

A work day is extremely similar in that the old adage definitely applies: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." If you head into your workday without your little healthy foods packed, you will very often end up eating from fast food places and vending machines. You will send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride that will start at breakfast and probably end around 10pm as you stand in your kitchen eating ice cream straight out of the container, feeling as though you are possessed by a demon, not in control of your own body. 

I've learned from not just hiking but every day experience, that it is IMPERATIVE for me to pack many small protein rich healthy meals to keep my metabolic fires burning during the day and keep me from getting too hungry. Some people might not need to graze all day like this. In fact, there is the excellent argument that eating small, frequent meals causes insulin to be present in your body all day long and, thus, prevent fat burning. However, here's my take. If you struggle with controlling your appetite, you're going to crash and burn by the end of the day and go to bed flooded with insulin when you lose control from going to long without eating earlier in the day. So instead I eat my small, frequent, appetite controlling meals during the day then stop eating around 6-7pm. My body then burns its fat while I sleep. Everyone is different and just like planning the perfect fuel for YOUR hike, you have to find the perfect fuel for your life in general. 

5. Be gentle with the earth. I've always noticed that the deeper you get into the woods, the less likely you are to find litter. I firmly believe this is because true nature lovers (the ones who go for the long, deep hikes) would never throw their crap down on the ground. No metaphor, just don't be an a-hole and respect the earth. It's the only home we have.

6. Downhill traffic always yields to uphill traffic. If you're a hiking newb, this will put you ahead of the game as this isn't something that everyone just knows right off the bat. Unless there is an extenuating circumstance, for instance, if people are on a steep downhill slope that makes stopping hard or even dangerous, the people hiking down always stop and allow the people headed up to pass first. I've wondered why this is in the past and I've settled on the reason being that hiking uphill is hard enough without having to stop and watch the hikers enjoying their leisurely stroll downhill pass.

Real life? When someone is struggling, stop and smile at them as they pass. Help them if you can. Don't rub it in their face that you are NOT struggling. Because, guess what, you guys are on different parts of the same path and we all have struggled and will struggle.  Likewise, pay attention to their struggle to remind yourself that it's okay that you did or will struggle too. Realize when they pass that they are the same as you. We are all connected and all will pass this way until our "hike" is done.

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