Today we have a guest post from fellow blogger Dave, who has spent two years backpacking around the world. This has taught him some valuable lessons, applicable to hiking – and life in general. I especially like his points about teamwork and appreciating the journey just as much as the destination. Here’s Dave:
In so many ways, exploring the outdoors is a metaphor for navigating life. Although the way ahead is at times clear and exciting, there are times when unexpected obstacles pop up. I don’t think it really occurred to me at the start that hiking could teach me so much about managing life in general.
Hiking has become such a vital part of life, and as a result of some epic hikes, I have come to understand so many things about myself and my capabilities. I think it’s safe to say that if it wasn’t for hiking, I don’t know where I would be today. Here are some of the most valuable life lessons I learned from hiking:
Prepare… but don’t over-prepare
There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.” That’s an interesting phrase, and although it doesn’t apply to everything in life, it can be applied to hiking. There are certain things you just can’t do without, especially on multi-day hikes and when sleeping outdoors. Mostly this is just common sense, but I’ve learned that covering the basics and trusting your resourcefulness is the most effective way of preparing.
It’s very possible to over-prepare, and that can be just as bad as under-preparing! As a newbie, I was very concerned with preparation, but I hadn’t yet realised that moderation also applied. I would aim to cover every eventuality, but this just resulted in an overloaded backpack. It resulted in a trade-off between a comfortable journey and peace of mind.
I soon realised that there are times in life when you have to take risks. I don’t mean crazy ones, like not carrying enough water or weather protection. But those ‘convenient’ extras for unlikely scenarios all add up in terms of weight that may literally drag you down. In all my years of hiking, I can only remember one or two occasions when I wished I had brought one of those convenient extras. Nevertheless, I survived just fine and became more resourceful in the process. That was a useful lesson!
Trust your instincts
Instincts exist for a reason. The rational mind simply can’t figure everything out on its own. It loves to have a good go, but sometimes this just leads to confusion and anxiety. That’s because there are times when it’s impossible to know the results of your choices ahead of time. I remember on one occasion I was hiking alone, and the map I had was mostly redundant. It was only supposed to be a day hike, but evening was falling fast, and I had a fork in the road ahead of me. If I had taken the wrong one, I could have found myself hiking several hours extra in the dark, and with no phone signal.
My mind started coming up with horror stories about getting lost, torch batteries running out, wild animals… you name it. That’s the mind’s job – to prevent and protect – but I couldn’t allow it to run the show on this occasion, so I sat for a moment with my map and just felt it out via the seat of my instincts: my gut. The mind can’t tell you why you chose the way you did. Only hindsight can confirm that your instincts were correct. One choice just ‘felt’ more right than the other, so I went for it. I was at my car within two hours, watching the sun going down and smiling wildly.
Don’t give in to fear of failure
There are times as a hiker when you look up at a huge mountain peak and think, “Can I really do that?” The answer is probably “Maybe, maybe not.” Who knows? You can’t know until you try, even if you can take a good guess at the outcome. There were times when I turned down hikes because I knew they would really challenge me, and that I might have to turn back. Part of the problem was that I didn’t want to feel embarrassment for not being strong enough, fit enough or whatever.
After hearing awe-inspiring hike reports from my would-have-been hiking group after the fact, I was kicking myself. If they could do it, I probably could have too. The next time I got an opportunity like that, I went for it. I never allowed that nagging voice to win again, and the experiences I’ve had since were so worth it. Through that I learned that it’s better to regret what you did do (not that I have yet!), than to wonder what you might have experienced.
Stay positive and take one step at a time
Hiking also taught me to be present, in a funny way. Letting the mind wander off to possibilities of future exhaustion etc. is unhelpful; taking one step at a time keeps you focussed on the here and now, appreciating each precious moment. When you’re on a huge hike and feeling tired, you might find yourself just beyond the halfway point and realising it’s pointless to turn back anyway.
Even when you’re super-tired and the way onward could be tricky, you know that turning around would take plenty of energy too. One way or another, you have to find it in you to just continue, no matter your energy levels. I’ve learned to commit to one step at a time, stopping as often as I need to in order to give my body rest and recalibrate my mind.
My mind does a great job of dampening the experience if I allow it. I’ve learned that keeping positive is imperative, so now I choose to trust in myself – and in life. “I can’t” switches to “I can” and it’s amazing what that attitude can do for your body too. Sometimes life gives you no choice but to push yourself and find out what you’re capable of. I eventually learned that a ‘one step at a time’ approach combined with positivity and attention to my needs is the key to cracking all kinds of life challenges.
Teamwork makes everything easier
None of us can get through life all by ourselves. At times we relish overcoming life’s personal challenges alone, but there are times when we can’t get away from the fact that we need other people to help us. One time while I was hiking with a group, one of the girls slipped on a rock and sprained her ankle. We had several miles to go at that point, so the rest of us took it in turns to support her. It was tough to support that extra weight, so we just did it in ten-minute stints each. I can’t imagine how tough it would have been with only two of us, but we would still have managed!
Some hikes I know I never could have finished without my companions. Rocks that were too big to climb without a helping hand, malfunctioning tents, a migraine at the top of a mountain… you name it. I’ve been so grateful for the help of my comrades at times, and it made me realise that I can’t hope to conquer every task alone. There is beauty in supporting and being supported. Through hiking in company, I learned that leaning on others and being able to ask for help is just part of being human.
Life is not only about the end goals
When you set out on a hike, you may well be anticipating the view at the top, or the feeling of having achieved something challenging – both bring about a sizeable dopamine hit! However, there is so much value in staying present for the whole journey and appreciating all the steps you had to take to reach the goal. When you’re present for these details, the reward is far greater at the end anyway!
There was a time when I was focussed mainly on ‘getting there’ but I eventually realised that I was missing out on plenty of beautiful moments on the way. I have to attribute that realisation to a traveller friend Sam Ross from The Hammock Hombre. It was during a hike with Sam in Bali that he drew attention to all kinds of details I was missing due to my dogged fixation with reaching the top. I guess that’s another form of teamwork! I came to realise that the journey is just as important as the destination – if not more. When all you really have is right now, it seems a shame to miss out on that.
Dave runs the travel blog Mountain Leon.
If you want to learn more about life on the road or read his blogs, head on over.
Photos by Nathan Dumlao, Holly Mandarich, Austin Ban, and Peter Conlan – all on Unsplash