After slogging up the side of a never-ending mountain in knee-deep snow for what seemed to be a good part of the morning, my calves were screaming, I was sweating like a crazy, panting for breath and yet still, I was cold. I was also mighty hangry. I hadn’t stopped for longer than a minute to get any decent snacks because the wind along that part of the ridge was cutting through the trees and through my bones too. So, I put my head down and forced one foot in front of the other and kept going, hoping for a sheltered spot to stop for a break some time that day.
When I finally found a spot out of the wind, 5 hours into my day… I was knackered, frustrated and hungry. I searched for a dry place to sit and tried to pull out lunch from my pack with wet, frozen fingers. I thought to myself…WHAT THE HECK am I doing here? THIS IS BRUTAL! No part of this was the relaxing, warm, spring hike with the night skies and sunrises that I had anticipated. Instead, I was hiding from a snow storm, cold and sweaty, slightly numb and in a pretty terrible head space… ready to quit and make my way out to the nearest IHOP for a caloric overload in a warm booth with a hot cup of coffee.
On a hike that feels like it’s horrifically hard, or isn’t living up to its epic expectations, there are two options: (Provided there is no immediate need to evacuate or leave your hike due to health or looming safety reasons..then hiking out is always the safe option)
- Hike out as fast as possible and find your nearest IHOP
- Just keep pushing forward and endure
Quitting gives you that instant gratification. And if you are close enough to the front country, quitting is so easy and enticing. “Why put yourself through a rough and uncomfortable time on your short time off work?”
BUT… “What if I just keep going? What would that look like? Would it be worth it?” These are all questions I asked myself on my last hike, which was, undoubtably the most challenging hike both mentally and possibly physically that I’ve done in a long time. Sure, I thought about hiking to the highest ridge to get one sad bar of cell service to call an uber to the nearest road crossing along the trail. But I didn’t. Sure, I though about begging a day hiker for a lift back to my car 20 miles away… but I didn’t. I put my head down and slogged through the snow, mountain top after mountain top. Each day was hard. Each day I had to challenge myself mentally and remind myself that I was out there doing what I love. Sometimes hiking is 90% a mental game, much more than physical one.
Flash forward. The hike was a few days behind me. I was back to sleeping in my cozy warm bed, enjoying luxuries like running water, dry socks and hot meals. I stopped to think about my trip. Heck yes it was hard, and quitting sure would have been easy. But as I let my thoughts go back to the hard slog on the snowy trail, I was filled with a huge sense of pride. I was grateful. Grateful that I pushed on. Grateful for the experience and my own strength. Grateful for the magnificent places I got to explore; even if it was really hard and often downright miserable. I wondered then, how I would have felt had I decided to quit the hike and hit up my local IHOP? I’m guessing pretty disappointed.
This really got me thinking about different kinds of trips. There are the amazing hikes; the ones with vistas on every turn, brilliant weather, magical lake swims and laughs and drinks around a campfire. Picture perfect. You leave those kind of trips feeling refreshed, and re-connected. Then there are the hard hikes; the ones that throw you curve balls, never-ending climbs, frozen socks, and undesirable weather. You leave those hikes feeling tired and ready for home comforts. But you also take home learned life lessons, a sense of pride and accomplishment. Occasionally we all need one of those hard hikes. Why? Because a crap hike with crap weather makes us grateful for the warm sunny nights by the lake. A tough climb makes us feel strong, mind and body. A relentless struggle helps you to dig deep, find your mental toughness and put things in perspective. If you never get tested and pushed to the limit, you never know what you may be capable of.
Some trips need to be perfect. Some trips need to be hard. I am thankful for the perfect trips. I am grateful for the hard ones. I’m grateful that I am happy, healthy and alive with a the spirit and true grit for adventure to explore these incredible places; even if they don’t always wanna play nice. I’m also grateful for the people who join me on such crazy adventures. So next time your mind is dragging you down and tricking you into thinking you wanna quit. Stop. Take a deep breath and remember what you are grateful for. You may just be happy you put IHOP on hold and hiked on. In the end… I was.