4 Life Lessons Learned From Long Day Hikes

4 Life Lessons Learned from Long Day Hikes

March 3, 2017 / By Katie Hnatik

Hiking is awesome! It’s fun, full of challenges and it teaches us a lot about ourselves. Many of the life lessons learned through hiking can teach us things about other aspects of life. They make us more confident by helping us to realize our strengths.

Life Lessons Learned:

You are stronger and more capable than you realize.
On a long out and back hike, worn out and sore, with a good distance left between you and your car or your shelter for the night, it’s easy to despair. Your inner voice may become an enemy, telling you that you’ll never make it, that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. But as you go, slowly, bit by bit, if you stop and look back where you came from, you may be surprised at the ground you’ve already covered. Looking ahead, landmarks that seemed impossibly far away come into close view faster than you expected. Slowly, you realize there is hope. You realize you’re going to make it. You won’t be giving up and spending a cold, dark night in the woods. That negative voice becomes overpowered by a more positive narrative, saying ‘wow, look how far I’ve come already!’ You learn to take it one step, one turn in the trail at a time. You learn to break the journey into smaller pieces. You move from one landmark to the next and celebrate those accomplishments one by one.

The more you put yourself in this type of scenario, the more second nature it becomes in stressful situations, to break the whole of a problem down into smaller parts. You learn to set smaller goals and move toward them one step at a time. You learn to be proud of yourself for those small accomplishments and let that energize you for your next goal.  In the end, you find that you are more capable than you realized.

It’s okay to fall short of the end.
If you’re like me, you make plans and set goals and fall short of them all the time. It can feel like failure, even if no one else knows what your intended goal was. There are different philosophies about setting goals. Some say that you should refrain from goal setting as it sets you up for failure and can be demotivating. Others say that if your goals don’t scare you, at least a little, you’re not setting them big enough. I myself like setting goals. I like the process of planning and working toward things. It helps me to feel like I’m growing and improving and that helps to keep me optimistic about life.

Yes, I get discouraged and down on myself when I don’t reach my goals, but usually, that’s just an immediate and temporary reaction. Once the initial sting eases, and I look back at what I did manage to accomplish, the experience I gained, the lessons I learned, I’m proud of myself. I can say to myself, ok, so I didn’t reach the peak, or see the view from the lookout at the end of the trail, but I still saw a lot and I can look at what went wrong and use that for the future.

Maybe you take on a hike that was too strenuous and kicked your ass faster than you expected. You still gained strength and knowledge this go around, and you’ll expect it to be that hard next time. You’ll go into it more fiercely, knowing that your mettle will be put to the test. You’ll know how to better prepare yourself mentally and physically, and what gear and supplies will meet your needs.

It’s easy to get discouraged in life when we don’t reach the outcome we hoped to, but we learn more by aiming for things that are beyond our reach the first time around. It makes us stronger. When you reach for something and fall short, you set a benchmark for yourself, something to measure your progress by.

Challenging ourselves in this way keeps us engaged in life.

It’s okay to go slower than you planned
Chris and I often set off on a hike, expecting to go a certain distance, or reach the end by a certain time. We are the worst at time management on hiking trails. Sometimes it’s because a trail is more strenuous that we expected, but often, it feels like the time just slips through our fingers. It might take us more than an hour to go two miles on an easy trail and I may look at the time and question why we’re not farther along. When I look back and examine what we did, I usually see that we stopped to take pictures or revel in a breathtaking view. Maybe a critter crossed the path and we stopped to watch. Maybe the trail crossed a beach along a lake where there was an abundance of rocks that were just the perfect size and shape for skipping, and we couldn’t help but while away some time watching the stones bouncing off the water. Or, maybe there was a path leading off the main trail and we chose to take a detour to investigate where it went and whether it may be something of note for a future outing.

Experiences like this have value. Sure, maybe you won’t get as far on the trail this time as you had planned. Maybe you feel slow when someone who passed you on the way out is passing you again in the opposite direction, having already reached the end of the trail. But don’t discount the experience and the memories that you gained.

When Chris and I started setting up our website, we expected it to be quick. We learned what the big, basic steps were and they seemed pretty simple. Along the way, we got carried away learning more details about the little things than were probably necessary. As a result, it took us months longer to get it anywhere near ready. Some of the things we learned were useful, some weren’t. For a while, it was extremely frustrating. We expected to have things going really quickly and never imagined that it would take as long as it did. But looking back at the processes of getting to where we are now, we gained a lot of experience and information and have a clearer, more detailed view of the whole process.

This same lesson applies to anything new to us in life. You may go slower than someone else, or slower than you hoped, but moving more slowly allows you to inspect the details and gain a broader understanding.

Don’t Be Discouraged by False Peaks
Some mountains are straight-forward, so to speak. You can see the peak and gauge your progress as you ascend which keeps you prepared mentally for the work ahead. You can adjust your pace to ration your energy stores and make sure you’ll have what you need to reach the top.

Some mountains aren’t so kind.

Bird Ridge in Indian Alaska, a 30-minute drive from Anchorage is notorious for its false peaks. It is steep and strenuous to begin with, so by the time you see (or think you see) the peak, you are relieved if not grateful; ready to celebrate your accomplishment, rest, take in the views, and maybe eat lunch. You plunge on with renewed vigor, perhaps pushing your pace a little harder, but then, as the peak that you saw starts to level out, the next high point emerges. You realize your mistake. Because you could not see beyond the hill in front of you, you thought it was the end.

The time for celebration is postponed. Now, you have to regroup, recalibrate your expectation and trudge on.

Some mountains fool you repeatedly. You will curse the hike gods for their cruel tricks, likely swearing out loud. You will wonder if it’s really necessary to reach the top or whether, meh, maybe this is good enough. Every time the finish line jumps further away, you will find yourself weighing the value of pushing forward, against calling it quits.

We are built in such a way that our minds are always calculating the effort left ahead of us to reach our destination. It is easy to be discouraged when you thought your work was nearly finished, and suddenly you find that there is much left ahead. This is true with anything in life.

You’ll never know if the view from the top of the mountain was worth it if you don’t push past your discouragement. I can tell you from experience that it usually is.

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