A year ago this coming October we went to visit my brother who had recently moved to North Carolina. It was suggested we go hiking to see a waterfall. His wife loves them, the kids were on board, Kristina was ecstatic. She loves to be outside moving period. In whatever direction…up down and all around. Ironically, I cannot even recall the last time we went hiking but if you looked in my closet, it would appear that I do it all the time. Or spend far more time outside than I really do. My wardrobe is very outdoorsy. So, in my mind I have played the role of hiker for a very long time. You would think that we were situated somewhere say like Boulder, Colorado or somewhere with you know, a lot of hiking trails or at best in any area with a lot of outdoor activities. We are not and I have not lived in such a place in a very long time. We have outdoor things to do around here, I kayak, but it is different when we travel. I want to see something I have never seen. Anyway, my closet is deceiving.
I love being outside just as much as Kristina. On specific temperature days. If I step outside and feel like I am breathing in sauna air, I will most likely turn around and go back inside. That is her jam. Me? I need mid 70’s, ZERO humidity. A day like that to me is as my mother would say, “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” That being said, this particular hike in North Carolina was on a perfect day. Perfect weather, perfect temperature. Just perfect. I however was not in hiking attire, nor did it occur to me that the 1.5 mile sign on the post at the head of the trail meant this is not a flat 1.5 miles. We were going to see a waterfall for the love of God…those typically are up high and end at the bottom of something. A hill, a mountain, a ravine, a dell. We survived, it was beautiful, there were a lot of stairs. A lot. I made a mental note: next hike have proper gear, more water, a snack, etc.
The next time we went to North Carolina to visit my brother, which was just this past 4th of July weekend, again, we decided collectively to go to a different mountain for a new hike. The one I really wanted to go to was an almost 3 hour drive from his house, but we did not want to spend 6 hours on the road…so we picked one closer. This time, I have what I think is partial hiking gear attire. Hiking shorts and a t-shirt, a water bottle, a hat, brand new hiking SANDALS, never worn, no socks. Brother told me that was a big mistake, I shoved him off explaining if they were tight enough it would be fine. Big mistake # 1.
The thing about hiking trails is they start off really nice, flat and incredibly unassuming. So at the start, I have an abundance of confidence. “This will be a nice leisurely stroll through the forest. How pleasant. Hope I see a deer, or a moose, or whatever creature resides in the North Carolina woods that will not try to eat me.” Very shortly after you get your confidence built up to just the right amount, the beautiful wide paved trail just ends…and now its just dirt…rocks…rough terrain, narrow trails. And all confidence (at least for me) is out the window. Also at the beginning of the trail I panic just a bit because I don’t have a map. I like maps. I like knowing which direction I am going at all times, that is also a metaphor for how I like to live my life. When we go hiking it is kind of last minute and spontaneous, so I don’t have a map, have not taken time beforehand to download a map, so naturally when it finally occurs to me that I don’t have a map, I am already in the forest, with no service. I start down the trail with no idea where it is going to take me or what lies in front of me and then I really start to panic. You know immediately you are in trouble if within the first 5 minutes of the hike that you are in fact now climbing, and on an ascent, that the rest of the distance is going to be challenging. On this particular hike, very close to the top, the path is no longer truly passable unless you are some kind of goat or super human. I have people of all ages passing me as my legs become more like Jell-o than I have ever experienced in my life. I can stop and sit and be in everyone’s way, I can turn around and run (very slowly climb) back down or I can keep going up, I mean eventually this has to end right, or am I on my way to space? A bazillion thoughts run through my head.
Is this where it ends for me?
Am I going to die?
Where the F is Kristina?
Who’s idea was this?
Why am I so out of shape?
I want to see the Niagara Falls?
Will I ever be ready to get another dog?
Who thinks this is fun?
Why are people not watching their kids what if they slide down the mountainside?
What if I slide down the mountainside?
How the hell are paramedics going to get up here, I will be dead before they get the first quarter mile?
How on earth will they retrieve my body from the ravine?
Where the F is Kristina?
Who’s idea was this?
Why didn’t I just stay at the pool? I was fine at the pool.
Mom please tell God I am not ready.
I am not enjoying nature right now.
Why am I pushing my broken ass body like this?
Do you have a death wish Tiffany?
Is this how you want to go? Wobbly legs screaming over the side of the mountain?
Where the F is Kristina? Why has she abandoned me? Why do we only do things she loves?
You get the idea. And then a little old Indian lady softly says to me as I am holding on for dear life to the smallest tree on the planet, clearly paralyzed with fear, “are you OK? Do you need some water?” I assume she asks in her native tongue some little minion for water, because next thing I know a small Indian child is handing me a bottle of water to which I politely say “no thank you, I have some. I just needed a breather.” I must have been a shear color of white because the nice little Indian lady precedes to help me practice my breathing, reassures me that I am almost there and that I can do it, I have come so far, all this way. The whole exchange is probably less than 60 seconds, but she was correct. At least about the almost there part. We (I) finally make it to the top and it is indeed breath taking. Awe inspiring. Worth the trip. Until I realize I have to get back down. Then the panic starts all over again, so I just sit a minute and try to take it all in.
As I am sitting there it occurs to me that I chose this. I chose to do this activity. I could have stayed home at the pool. Could have went shopping. Could have done ANYTHING but this. So for all intents and purposes, I chose to scare myself to death.
We make it back down and I am praying and thanking a God I have never seen and I say to myself, I will probably not do this again. That would be a great story except it doesn’t end there. There has been more hiking. Albeit a much less strenuous and treacherous hike, a hike all the same. And it was my idea, and I was as equally unprepared as I have been the other times. Some hiking gear, no map, one bottle of water, no clue. This last hike caused me to ponder WHY IN THE SAM HELL DO I DO THIS IF IT BRINGS ME SO MUCH TERROR. And that is when I realized that for me personally, hiking is just like life.
At the beginning it seems fine. Safe. Flat, comfortable terrain. Sometimes the path is laid out for you, sometimes you come to a fork in the path and you have no idea which way one leads, so you follow your gut and maybe you turn around because relatively quickly you either realize your gut was wrong or perhaps its a dead end. Or maybe you just listened to the direction your wife thinks you should go (who has very little sense of direction.) So you retrace your steps and you follow the path laid out for you, but sometimes it is not clear if you are on the right path at all. Sometimes along the way you can see where others have created their own path, very clearly not meant to be “the way.” You convince yourself that if it was the right way, more people would have taken it. Also you are scared because you do not have a map and it looks sketchy, so you still have to trust your gut. That you have no idea what is waiting for you at the end of the path (if you take the right one) and the terrain changes sometimes very quickly and it gets bumpy and rugged and washed out and sometimes its muddy and murky and sloppy. And you forge onward, still thinking you are “on the right path” and occasionally you meet other hikers who nod and smile or also have the same fear and frown on their face as you do and you think to yourself, this must not be the way, they do not seem very happy. Maybe they are scared too. Maybe we should start a club. A support group for scared hikers. Sometimes they say things like “is this the way to the waterfall?” We don’t know good kind soul, we are pretty much also lost, and I don’t have a map, I forgot to download it and it wouldn’t matter if I had, I am in the middle of the forest following only where others have gone before me. Eventually, if you are lucky, the path leads to something amazing. Sometimes it just leads to more paths. Sometimes you walk in a great big circle, sometimes you go way out of the way and made your trek much more difficult and challenging than it needed to be. Sometimes the path is straight up hill and your heart starts pounding so hard out of your chest you are convinced it will beat right out of it. Sometimes there are stairs and while you know you have to go down them you also know its the way out if the path does not lead to amazing but instead leads to danger and you know that if your ass was being chased you are probably going to get eaten because you cannot scale these stairs with speed or agility. Sometimes you pass many others on the way. Others who are far more prepared than you are. They have bags and knapsacks and really great shoes. The have snacks and first aid kits and extra water and a compass. As you pass these people who are far more prepared than you, you silently pray they will remember you in case you get lost. You slip, you stumble, you chose the wrong rock to walk over, sometimes you may fall. There are plenty of roots sticking out of the ground. Sometimes you are so focused on not falling that you miss everything around you, you are too busy looking down. Sometimes you look behind you wondering if you can figure out how to leave breadcrumbs with things already out there in nature without getting poison ivy so you can find your way back. Sometimes you sneak a peek at what’s ahead, but immediately put your head back down to focus on what is in front of you so you don’t trip and fall.
Hiking makes you focus on the here and now. One step in front of the other. No idea where the path leads, just follow your heart. Some steps are going to be harder, more challenging, some will be smoother, stable. Hiking is very much like life. Hiking and life together, is well simply, Liking. I challenge myself when I choose to do this because I am a planner. A maper outer. When I am going to do something I map it out to the best of my ability. I research it to the nth degree. I measure all of the outcomes. Hiking goes against every single fiber of my being. To my core hiking scares me to death. But in facing that fear, it has become a little bit easier to LIFE, if that makes any sense. If I am struggling with a decision, or worried about my coaching business, I tell myself, I can do hard things (thank you Glennon Doyle for that statement.) I can do those hard things and I can survive. Because life is bumpy. Life is unchartered. Life can go many different directions. Life is brutal and beautiful at the same time. Difficult and challenging with some awe inspiring stops along the way.
If you just keep pushing, just keep climbing, just keep Liking.