Friday, January 30, 2015

Musings: Life Lessons on the Trail

Saint Edward State Park - Lainey Piland photo

How to Have a Successful Hike.  I stumbled across this wonderful blog post on the Pacific Crest Trail Association website and can't say enough how much I appreciate author Joan West's thoughts on what it truly means to be successful. This wisdom applies not only to hiking, but really to life in general.

In 2014, Joan West set out to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. Clearly, this is a daunting endeavor, but come hell or high water, Joan was single-mindedly focused on accomplishing her goal of making it to Canada. However, a stress fracture in her foot derailed those plans. Head on over to Joan's Rambling Hemlocks blog (love that name!) to read her excellent take on how a failed attempt to thru-hike the PCT became a revelation about defining your own success and enjoying the journey.

Joan's writing about her experience on the PCT really got me thinking about my own experiences in the outdoors...

Defining your own success.

Don't compare yourself to others.  Instead, focus on the reasons why you are here.  What are you hoping to get out of this? What matters to you?

Getting involved in the world of active outdoorsy people can be a bit intimidating.  I myself have often wondered whether or not my experiences stack up to those of others.  I will never thru-hike the PCT, or any other long-distance trail.  I've never snow-shoed, backpacked, or hiked up a mountain (although those are all things I hope to try at some point). My hikes are usually no more than four miles round-trip, and occur in nearby state parks, watershed preserves, and conservation areas - bits of second-growth forest and reclaimed natural space carved out of suburbia - rather than remote, unspoiled wilderness.

So am I a failure as a hiker because I've never been on a beastly weeklong backpacking trip in the wilderness? Am I just a "wannabe"? Not at all. I just have to remind myself of what my own purpose is when I head outdoors for a hike: exercise, fresh air, and a chance to feast my hungry eyes on that beautiful Pacific Northwest nature which makes me feel at home. And of course, to take photos and have experiences that I can share with you all on my blog.  Regardless of whether I've hiked 15 miles in the remote wilderness or 3 miles in nearby Saint Edward State Park... if I accomplish those things, I am successful, because I have fulfilled my own defined purpose for setting out on that hike.

Enjoying the journey

Don't become so laser-focused on the end goal that you miss out on all the beautiful details, opportunities, and experiences that happen along the way.

When out hiking, I have no trouble enjoying the journey. I stop and look at interesting trees, plants, birds, and views along the trail and take lots of photos, rather than blazing straight through to the end destination. I always feel a little bit sad when I'm out hiking and pass by other people who have headphones stuffed in their ears, with blank gaze fixed straight ahead as they blast by me, running along the trail. Now, their purpose in being on the trail is probably primarily to get exercise - which is great - but in pursuing that goal of exercise, they are also missing out on some pretty amazing sights and sounds in the scenery around them.

Trail to Wallace Falls - Lainey Piland photo
On my recent hike to Wallace Falls, it would have been easy enough to put on blinders and forge ahead on the challenging trail, ignoring the other trees and interesting scenery because it wasn't the falls.  A view of the river, a notched stump, filtered sunlight falling on the trail ahead... seeing these things wasn't the end goal of the hike. The end goal was to see the falls. However, that doesn't mean that you can't allow yourself to enjoy and appreciate other things along the way. And trust me, as out of shape as I was (am) and with the amount of uphill climbing that hike included... let's just say that I stopped and looked around and enjoyed the journey a lot!

These two lessons - defining your own success and enjoying the journey - are applicable not only to hiking (or any other activity) specifically, but also to life in general.  How fulfilled would our lives be if we would stop comparing ourselves to others? If we chose to be present, joyful, and appreciative in every moment, not just when we feel we've "made it"?  If anyone ever finds out... please let me know!

Thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

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