One day I was hiking on a wooded trail, alone. Technically, I was accompanied by two people but they were far ahead of me on the path. As I trudged along, I said to myself, “Life is a lot like hiking.”
My self said, “What are you talking about?”
And I began to consider some of the valuable life lessons I had learned during hiking trips that my husband and I had taken with various groups of people.
I learned to set my own pace. There will always be people who walk faster. The only time I took a serious fall, I was hurrying to keep up. The downward sloping trail in the Arizona Mountains was full of fist-sized rocks, one of which pivoted and threw me down the incline. I landed face first. As my face struck a rock, the impact drove my shatter-proof (thank goodness) sunglasses against my right cheekbone, creating a black eye that would have been a badge of honor for any serious prize fighter.
So I learned to walk at my own, steady pace, a pace I could sustain over a whole hike. I will probably always be slower than the fastest and sometimes faster than the slowest. That’s OK. In hiking, as in life, somebody has to maintain the middle. Sometimes, we are the best. Sometimes we are not. Most of us, most of the time, are somewhere in the middle. We middlers cheer the fastest, encourage the slowest, and do the work that keeps the group together.
I learned to carry my own pack. On my first hike, my husband and I were walking with a group along the cliffs of Devon on England’s Bristol Channel. I was not in great hiking shape, so Dick offered to carry my stuff in his pack. After a day-long, hot hike through fields and woods, I had gravitated toward the slow end of the hiker line; in fact, I was last. Way last. The trail suddenly opened onto a long sandy beach where we were greeted by the site of – an ice cream stand! But Dick was a quarter-mile down the beach with his pack and my money. I was too far away to call and too tired to catch up. After that, I carried my own pack. It’s gratifying to know that we can manage on our own, even while it’s gratifying to know that help is available when we need it.
I learned to stop when I want to enjoy the view. On that first hike, our guide told us of a hiker who had been viewing the ocean as he walked on a trail halfway down a steep hillside. He stepped in a hole, broke his leg, and had to be evacuated by helicopter. Dreamer that I am, I’d rather gaze at scenery. But sometimes dreamers must attend to the practical particulars of the path. And we might all be multi-taskers, but sometimes we must remember to stop and focus on only one.
Finally, I learned that some hikers prefer always to forge ahead to see what’s around the next bend. Others prefer to stop and fully enjoy one spot before they move on to the next. These two different types often marry each other. Or happenstance puts such different travelers together on the same journey.
This apparent conflict, as it turns out, is a good thing. Forgers-ahead need enjoyers to remind them to stop, look around, and appreciate what is. Enjoyers need forgers-ahead to encourage them along, or they’d never move toward what could be. It’s a matter of balance. And so, it seems, is life.