The Metaphor of the Hike


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.

Point taken.

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.

    Steep grades

    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.

You call this a trail?

  • 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.

    cattails in the desert; water from the rock

    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.


The Window

Top of the Lost Mine Trail


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3 Responses to The Metaphor of the Hike

  1. Lucian 14 January, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    The pictures look beautiful, I can only imagine being there in person! looks like some serious hikes. Good work Madre :)

  2. Marvin 21 December, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    How apropos the metaphor! And your destinations are so very enticing; I’m most intrigued by water from the rocks, [come on, there’s a peddler out there who has some of that in a bottle….for a price!] but of course someone has found the reward of discovery at each one, at least enough to point the way to those who choose to venture. There’s comfort in that thought….never really alone…..even when choosing the path less taken.

    So, Kate, keep on trekking….and share with us a word or pic from time to time; save the best for campfires and story telling. And let’s cheer the new meaning from a fella that hollers: \take a hike…!\

    • Kate 21 December, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

      You would have LOVED these hikes, Marvin. You’d have scampered to the top of the Lost Mine Trail without breaking a sweat. You’d have done the all-day treks. (I would have tried one, but I have my old dog, and she had to stay in the car.) These treks are out there, waiting for you! (There’s a real comfy lodge in the park–not four-star, but nice. think about it!)