There are numerous studies that prove spending time in the great outdoors is healthy for the mind and body. I would have to agree.
Henry Thoreau is known to have said:
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
What a fabulous way to illustrate the effects that nature can have on the soul. In my time spent outdoors, hiking and backpacking, the trail has done more for me than just clear my head and keep me active. The trail has shown me a lot about myself that I didn’t know without pushing myself outside my normal comfort zones. It has taught me skills that I now apply to my daily life; at work, at home and in my daily routines. Taking to the trail has made me stronger; in body and mind alike. Why deny yourself the opportunity to learn something valuable from within while enjoying the outdoor world? I dare you to find out what you are capable of and see what the trail can teach you about yourself, and about life in general !
WHAT THE TRAIL HAS TAUGHT ME:
1. Patience and Perseverance You can lose your sh#% on the trail… and it will get you just about nowhere. This is when you learn that patience and perseverance are the two tools that will solve problems, get you out of a pinch and keep you focused on your goals. Imagine a world where throwing a temper tantrum would never help you get your way: that’s the great outdoors. Losing your cool won’t change the weather, your sore feet or the trail ahead of you. The trail has taught me to take a deep breathe, refocus and develop a plan. This has been the most valuable of lessons that the trail has taught me.
2. Germophobia: I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a chronic germaphobe in my daily life. I pitch left overs after 3 days. I won’t eat anything that has been sitting on the counter and I think far too much about the germs that lurk around me. On the trail, my anal-retentiveness for germs is scaled way back. Of course there is never a reason to avoid good hygiene in the outdoors because this is what will keep you healthy. But on the trail, I believe in the 5 second rule and am okay not showering for days. I’m learning that “real-life” me could learn to chill a bit, and be more like “trail” me. A healthy balance is key.
3. Proper planning: I’m a preacher of the 5 P’s to Success: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. It takes time, mixed with a bit of trial and error to get planning skills down to a fine art. Nothing will derail you faster on the trail than failing to plan on the basics: your gear, your plans, the weather, your back up plans. I’ve become a skilled and organized planner. The trail has taught me to think ahead and prepare for a variety of possibilities and to think on my feet.
4. Trust your Gut: Being on the trail has allowed me to hone my instinctive skills. If ever there was a place to listen to how you feel, this is it. Making smart decisions in the wilderness is important. You will be surprised at how well you learn to judge the clouds, the wind, or your internal danger meter. You will hear every stick snap in the woods or know if you are being followed by a furry creature. You will know when something doesn’t feel quite right and that you should always trust it. Being in nature heightens your senses and allows you to build trust in yourself and your decision making.
5. You are capable of more than you think: My favorite saying has always been “your legs aren’t giving out, your mind is giving up.” This has rang true for me on more than one occasion. Most people who love backpacking will admit that it’s not always easy or “enjoyable” in the moment, but the whole experience is awesome and that’s what makes me continue do to it time and time again. Being on the trail will teach you that you can always push harder, you can always be tested a bit more (regardless of if you want to) and be pushed outside of your comfort zone. You WILL persevere. In real life, it’s too easy to say, “I can’t” or “I’m tired” and get off the treadmill to go home to your sofa. In nature, you don’t have a choice but to keep on trucking…and you will. Your legs will keep on moving as long as your mind wills them to. In the end, you can look back and realize that you could have been pushing yourself a lot harder all along. This is how you grow. Keep pushing.
6. Slow down and breathe: Isn’t that the whole point of being in the outdoors anyway? Sometimes I can be so focused on crushing miles or a destination, that I miss the whole point of the journey; to slow down, breathe, and appreciate the amazing gifts of nature around me. Stop. Take photos of everything. Enjoy lunch at a sweet overlook. Listen to the birds sing. In real life, we don’t get to slow down. Life is so fast paced and hectic; trying to accomplish one task after another. Being in nature is the time to reflect, slow down, and reset. Let this happen and I guarantee that your adventures will be that much better because of it. Applying this in real life will likely reduce your stress levels as well.
7. Appreciation: This is a hard one. People often find it difficult to appreciate their surroundings in a swarm of bugs, in frigid temperatures, or while laying in a damp tent on the tenth day of rain. Some people can manage to see past these inconveniences and appreciate the smaller things that most often go unnoticed: the warmth of first morning sun, the hum of the summer peepers, the track of animal prints along the trail, the smell of the earth in the forest. It’s these little things that bring a smile to my face. These things renew me, excite me and keep me coming back for more. This appreciation has opened my mind up to another world entirely, where my senses are heightened and my soul is alive. I now find myself smiling when watching the sunrise while driving to work, or looking up at the stars at night from my deck. The trail has taught me to be grateful for everything, no matter how big or small.
8. Love yourself: This is multi-dimensional. On one hand, I’m referring to taking care of yourself in a primal way: food, water, shelter, hygiene. Like nursing your blistered feet at night so you can keep walking the next day. I’m also referring to this in a reflective way. What I mean by this, is letting the trail teach you that it does not discriminate. Everyone is equal on the trail, regardless of size, shape, race, beliefs. Everyone has to walk the same walk to get to the same point. Love yourself enough to know your body will get you there. You don’t need to be a supermodel to climb a mountain. You don’t need to be a body builder to complete a thru hike. The trail teaches you that your body is amazing and capable of difficult things and the one you have is just fine. It reinforces that a strong mind makes a strong body. Love it, take care of it, and it will continue to take you to amazing places.
9. Be Flexible: The great outdoors has no mercy for anyone. In a place where things can change in an instant, the only way to adapt and be successful is to learn to be flexible. The trail is quick to remind us that the goal is the journey and not the destination because the journey is unpredictable and ever changing. Couldn’t we learn a lot from this in our daily lives?
10. It’s not about how much you have, it’s about what you do with it: I’ll be the first to admit that I like to own the latest backpacking gadgets and gear. But I’ve also learned that having everything isn’t going to make you the “best hiker.” Its not always going to mean that you will have an easier or even more fun time compared to your trail mate who may not have the same things. I’ve learned over the years, that the people who have less are often the people having a better time, because they know what to do with what they have and how to make the most of it. They have mastered patience, appreciation, and planning. They trust themselves and their surroundings. What a grand lesson to learn in such a materialistic world.
Let your experiences and journeys help you grow as an individual. See for yourself how they can make you a stronger person: on and off of the trail.
What has the trail taught you?