Lessons for the trail…Lessons for life!The Appalachian Trail seems to be constantly climbing up one side of a mountain and clambering down the other. This gets exhausting when it is repeated hour after hour after hour. Sometimes we just wanted to drop our packs and quit…but even that is difficult to do when there is little flat ground to be found. A common grumble when hikers get together is wondering just what the trail-makers were thinking and why the trail has to go up and over every mountain along the way rather than staying on ridge lines or meandering along the sides of mountains. Complaints were louder when the trail headed straight up and down. Sections with switchbacks or at least with log or stone steps were much easier to hike. (To be fair, those types of changes would be much harder to build when making trail…)
Climb every mountain, Ford every stream, Follow every rainbow, Till you find your dream. –from Sound of Music
Eventually we figured out how to conquer the steep climbs. It took trial and error to figure out what tips and hints from other hikers worked well for us.
- Never look too far ahead. It can be discouraging to see how far you still have to climb!
- Focus on the next step and the next one. Counting steps can help. (I used 25 steps, not 100 like some hikers suggested.) Take a short break for deep breaths and a gulp of water each time you hit that number.
- Don’t hesitate to take a longer break and take off your pack if you find a good seat (boulder or fallen tree). Just don’t sit too long or your muscles will stiffen up and make the final climb more miserable!
- Readjust the weight you are carrying. Tighter straps on the uphill and looser straps on the downhill use gravity to keep weight better aligned over hips.
- Don’t fight the mountain. Work with the terrain and with your own body to find a rhythm that can be sustained.
- Celebrate when you reach the top! Take time to look back on what you accomplished before moving on to the next challenge. Downhill climbs are also exhausting, but at least there is relief in switching modes and stressing different muscles…
After a few weeks on the trail, we realized our muscles were stronger and our energy had increased. With each mountain we put behind us, our confidence grew. We really CAN do this. In fact, now that we are back home, we quickly get bored with flatland walking. It’s not just the lack of beautiful views. It simply feels too easy. We walk up and down the little hills around here without getting out of breath or tiring muscles.
Looking back, we realize we did not just learn how to thrive while climbing up and down physical mountains. Those same techniques can be applied when facing difficult challenges in life:
- Never look too far ahead
- Focus on the next step
- Take self-care breaks
- Readjust expectations/manage heavy burdens
- Don’t fight against the challenges but find a workable rhythm to move forward
- Celebrate milestones reached and look back on what you accomplished
(Note: we finished this year’s big adventure on October 21. We will continue posting photos and thoughts from our AT hike for the next few weeks.)