During my week at Big Bend, I completed three hikes. They were nice, moderate hikes–about five miles each, round-trip. They each ended at some wonderful destination, and then I returned by the same route.
As I trundled merrily (or sweatily) over hill and dale, it occurred to me how a good, stiff hike resembles life. Were I to approach the rigors of life with the same awareness that I bring to hiking, I might complain less and accomplish more.
Consider, then, hiking as a metaphor for the challenges of life. The first necessary element is to:
- Prepare well…
You don’t have to go overboard, but good preparation is critical. If you don’t have what you need, the experience will be unpleasant and maybe dangerous. On my way back from the Mule Ears Spring hike, which is a hot five-mile trek through the desert, I encountered a young couple I’d seen earlier zipping along in a fast car. The guy was fit with a dark complexion, so he was in pretty good shape. His blonde girlfriend, however, who had been so fresh and pert in the sporty car, was disheveled, red as a tomato, and covered in sweat.
“Oh, Honey. You need a hat,” I said reflexively.
“Yeah, well, I don’t have one,” she snapped.
But I wondered how many extra UV rays she’d absorbed through the top of her head and how long her relationship was likely to last.
- …because you never know what to expect. This is my personal mantra for travel, hiking, and life in general. Well-prepared as you may be, it’s impossible to know what lies ahead. The only helpful approach is to assume nothing and prepare for everything–as much as possible.
- If you turn back, you only experience the hard part. Each of these hikes had some butt-kicking aspect—steep grades, desert heat, a final clamber over wet rock.
But each ended in a place of amazing beauty. I was glad I stuck it out—the reward at the end was always worth the effort.
- Sometimes you have to turn back. While I’m a big fan of perseverance, still, the “never, never, never give up” slogan makes me twitchy. Sometimes knowing when to throw in the towel is a sign of wisdom, maturity—and maybe charity. Had the boyfriend been more aware of his date’s discomfort, maybe she would have avoided a sunburn on the top of her head, and maybe he would have avoided the doghouse.
- A destination isn’t a scenic overlook. How special are the scenic overlooks on the highway? How often do you get out of the car to marvel at them? How often do you remember their grandeur? I can tell you that I will not soon forget the magical sound of the spring, of water literally bubbling out of rock at the end of that desert hike.
I will long remember the sweet green of the foliage and the coolness of the water as I splashed my neck and arms and wetted my shirt and hat for the long walk back. The destination at the end of each hike was memorable in part because of the effort it took to get there. What you work to attain, you value more.
- The way back goes a lot faster. Maybe because you met the challenge; maybe because the way is now familiar, it’s a delightful aspect of the hike that the way home takes about half the time and effort.