The benefits of hiking are many.
Physically, it’s excellent exercise, offering both cardiovascular benefits in addition to muscle strengthening. Mentally, venturing outside and immersing oneself in nature is a proven stress buster. And no one can take in a panoramic view, hear water churning as it tumbles over rocks, or gaze upon a field full of wildflowers without feeling more connected to the universe and God.
But the trail is also a great teacher. Here are five lessons I learned as I prepared to hike the Grand Canyon.
1. Be prepared, not scared.
Do your research. Ask questions. Do the work. Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Don’t get me wrong. A little fear is a good thing; it can keep us safe. But it can also cripple us.
My hiking buddy for the Grand Canyon had to bow out at the last minute after nearly a year of preparation. As I stood on the rim the night before my hike, the canyon stretched out before me, at once breathtaking and formidable. I began having doubts. As panic swelled in the back of my throat, I took a couple of deep breaths, reminding myself of the training I had put in — all of the preparation.
What if, just this once, I trusted the training? What if I believed in myself? Once I made the conscious decision to do so, like magic, those negative thoughts fell away, and I had an incredible experience.
2. Nothing meaningful is easy.
It’s just not. Think about it. Have the most meaningful moments or things in your life been given to you, or have they been earned?
We live in a culture of fast fixes and instant gratification. On the trail, we work hard for those views, for the chance to experience things that few do. We brave the elements, log the miles, climb the mountains.
It’s never easy, but we condition ourselves to sit with discomfort for a short period to achieve our goals. Once you can learn to sit with some discomfort, you’ll move forward knowing that it’s only temporary. That it will pass. That you will attain your objective.
3. One step is progress.
No matter how small that step is, if you are moving forward, it’s progress. If it’s hard, take one step. Then take another. Keep moving in the direction of your desire. Do the next right thing. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. Progress is progress.
After my hike out of the Grand Canyon, I was asked by another hiker how long it took me to complete my trek. Overhearing the questioning, a woman at the bar piped up, “Who cares how long it took? This morning she was down at the bottom, and here she is now, at the top, drinking a beer!”
You know what? She’s right! Who cares how long it took? I did it. That’s all that matters.
4. Don’t forget to look up.
It’s easy to become so single-mindedly focused on the goal that we miss the entire journey. Head down, heart thumping, pushing through, we rush to the end with dogged determination.
Now and then, stop and look up. Take it all in. Sometimes this can be discouraging when you look ahead and see how far you have left to go. When that happens, turn around and look behind you. You’ll be astonished at how far you’ve come.
5. It’s never too late.
I had turned the page on my 40s and was one year into my 50s when I decided that I would hike the Grand Canyon. Armed with a Google search bar, and fueled by two glasses of a good Cabernet, I began planning and preparing. I didn’t let my age or my lack of experience deter me.
You can start late. You can be unsure. You can lack experience. But you have to start.
I’ve found these lessons that I learned while hiking to be equally applicable in everyday life.
Hiking reminded me that nothing is impossible. That I can achieve anything. The hardest part is deciding to go.