For me, hiking is hard, yet simple. And it’s a lot like life. Let me explain what I mean. I was recently on a big hike with some friends to an alpine lake, which was supposedly a beautiful and fun way to spend a day.
I did this willingly--excitedly even--and yet a few miles in, I found myself wondering why I chose to do this with my free time. This hike was so hard. Parts of the hike were steeply uphill, and I felt tired and honestly wanted to quit. I feel so much self-doubt in these moments, negative self-talk spiraling me into a terrible mood. So now, I’m spending my day off hiking uphill, red faced and out of breath and I am not having a good time. I am not chatting with my friends; I don’t even care about getting to the lake.
I have been adventuring this way for a decade and I consider myself a wilderness professional. Still, I often find myself falling into, “I can’t do this, I’m not strong enough, I’m too tired, too out of shape…” and on and on. When the terrain gets hard and my heart is beating fast, I always think I should turn around. I should give up. I should let everyone go on without me.
It’s honestly ridiculous the things that go through my brain when I’m hiking uphill. All this self-deprecating shame inside my head. On the outside, I am simply walking. Through beautiful terrain, no less. Fresh mountain air, snow-melt stream rushing along the side of the trail, colorful wild flowers, and boulders covered with bright lichen spots. Idyllic scenery to be hiking through, really. So why am I not enjoying myself? Why is this so hard? What is wrong with me?
There is nothing wrong with me.
My brain does this when challenged. When hiking uphill, yes. But also when I’m anxious about my work week ahead, when I’m tired and I have a lot on my plate, when I’m doing other types of adventure sports. The thought is always, “What if I can’t do it?” This happens when I’m climbing through the toughest part of a rock climb, I think, “It’s scary, it’s too hard, I can’t do it….” When in the midst of a tough workout, “I’m not strong enough, I can’t do this.” When finishing up a big project at work, “This is hard, this is scary, I don’t know if I can do it, I want to give up.”
All these examples are actually the same. It’s my anxiety talking--loudly. It’s fear trying to get the best of me. What I have learned over the years is that it’s important that I don’t listen too closely to these messages. It’s really important that I keep walking. When I keep walking, I physically push through that moment of fear and continuing doing the hard thing.
The truth is that I can keep going. Regardless that I’m breathing heavily, that my feet hurt, and my legs feel tired. Regardless of how scared I am of the future or the next moment. I can keep going. I have done this hundreds of times and when I do, it sends a message from my body back to my brain, that says instead, “I am capable. I am strong. I am resilient.”
And those messages are actually true, both in hiking and in my life. I can count on the fact that there will always be a phase of the journey that is hard and scary and uphill, but it’s never the whole thing. I always get to the other side of the self-doubt. I always get to the other side of the uphill climb, of the long day where a lot was asked of me, of the trail. And then I look back at what I just hiked and am grateful I kept walking. Every time.