I really wish I could tell you guys that hiking this fourteener was a piece of cake for me. Quite honestly, I kind of expected that it would be. I knew it would be a long hike, but I didn’t expect it to physically challenge me so much.
See, in Colorado, it seems like just about everybody has hiked at least one fourteener and this particular one, Gray’s Peak, was even labeled the “easy” one.
Guys. It was not easy. It was not like all of the other hikes I’ve done that had a few challenging parts, but were mostly just really scenic and long walks. This hike was completely above tree line and that altitude is no joke – that thin air is serious business!
It wasn’t super scenic along the way. There were a lot of rocks. And the best way I can think to describe the uphill climb is that it felt like I was doing 4 straight miles of walking lunges.
But, with all of that being said, there were things I loved about it and some important life lessons I noticed along the way that are relevant to just about every phase of life.
So, here are the things I learned hiking up a 14,000 foot mountain:
1. Don’t get stuck in the comparison trap.
Every time I think I’m doing well on this one, it rears its ugly head again. I had this running dialogue in my head telling me, Other people do this all the time, so it must not be difficult for them! I guess you’re not in as good of shape as you thought…and you call yourself a health coach!
First of all, I have no idea how difficult it is for other people, because I’ve never asked! Second of all, those are just about the least productive thoughts ever. They don’t inspire, motivate, or encourage.
Comparing yourself to other people and beating yourself up for not being like your idealistic view of them (which may or may not be accurate) basically just gets you to dwell on everything you aren’t instead of being grateful for all of the things that you are.
Don’t stay stuck there. It’s a joy-sucking place to be.
2. Show yourself grace.
Allow yourself to be human & leave room for imperfections. Pay attention when your body tells you it’s time to rest, drink water, or just stand still for a few minutes, even (and especially) if you feel like you should be able to go farther or faster or harder.
My dad is so used to powering through any situation, even when his body is screaming at him not to. He just couldn’t do that on this hike. We needed the rest breaks and there was absolutely no need to feel guilty about taking them (which I told him, but I don’t think he believed me!).
It’s a lot easier to take care of yourself along the way than to nurture yourself back to health after a complete burnout.
Strive for big goals and work hard, but give yourself permission to not be the best at every single task you take on. Do the best that you can and let that be good enough.
3. Take it one step at a time.
When we started the hike, the mountain was so far into the distance that it seemed like we would have to walk for days to get there. Even after walking uphill for hours, the peak was still so far away, and every time I looked at it, I felt a little stab of disheartenment because it seemed like such an impossible goal.
When I recognized that discouragement, I started intentionally bouncing my eyes back to the trail right in front of me and told myself, Just one more step. You can make it to that rock up there. Just get to the next switchback. And it added up to over 27,000 steps and we climbed up the equivalent of 339 flights of stairs.
You can accomplish just about anything by taking it one step at a time. Don’t focus on how far away your end goal is, just make the decision to keep moving forward. You’ll be amazed at the huge goals you can reach this way!
It’s pretty much my life mantra. It’s how I lost 100 pounds, survived my divorce, and am building a God-led business with no 5-year plan (ahh!) – one step at a time.
4. Roll with the punches.
Not long after we started back down the mountain, the sole of my right hiking boot somehow came unglued and started flopping all over the place. We stopped for a few minutes, my dad found pieces of his backpack to take apart, and he MacGyvered a way to hold it on.
A little while later, the sole of my left hiking boot did the same thing (what are the odds??), so we stopped and he fixed that one, too!
We could have spent our energy feeling frustrated and dreaming up angry words to write to the hiking boot company about their dysfunctional product. But frustration and angry words weren’t going to glue my soles back on. It would have just been wasted energy that put us both in a bad mood.
Instead, we just laughed and brainstormed solutions (I’m glad we didn’t have to figure out a way to tie the surgical towel around my boot!).
Always leave room for a plan B (and C and D…), and don’t get so hung up on how things should have gone that you can’t be flexible enough to go along with the things you have no power over.
Remember the Serenity Prayer – change the things you can and accept the things you can’t. Bonus points if you can do it all with a smile on your face!
5. Don’t miss the journey.
It’s easy to get so focused on the end goal (in this case, reaching the top of the mountain) that you miss the little things along the way. At one point, I was looking so far ahead that I practically stepped on a ptarmigan crossing the path. On the way up the mountain, I missed seeing a patch of purple wildflowers (one of my favorites!) that I spotted on our hike back down.
It’s not just about getting to the top and accomplishing your end goal. It’s about the process – stopping to smell the roses (or purple wildflowers), appreciating your surroundings, celebrating your progress, searching for blessings, and enjoying the people you meet along the way.
6. Encourage whenever you can.
We saw quite a few other people hiking the trail that day, and there were complete strangers on that mountain that absolutely made my morning.
One guy asked if we’d like him to take our picture on a scenic overlook. Another said, “You guys are doing great!” as she passed by. Almost everyone smiled and said, “Good morning!” when we saw them. When we were getting close to the top, there was a group of 6 people that had just made it up and they turned and cheered us on with “You’re almost there! Just a few more steps!”
And, I am telling you, it may have just seemed like a fun thing to do for them, but it was the lifeline I needed. At that point, my legs felt like lead and it was taking all of my energy just to lift my foot one more step. Their words lifted my spirits, put a smile on my face, and kept me moving.
Walking back down the mountain, we tried to pass that encouragement on to every person that we saw. Especially toward the top, so many people were exhausted and discouraged and would just look at us with desperation in their eyes as they asked, “Are we almost there?” And it was the most wonderful feeling to be able to smile at them and pass on those words that we had first received at the top of the mountain. “Yes! You’re almost there! Just a few more steps!” and see the relief wash over their faces.
Smile at people and spread encouragement like wildfire.
I’m not sure that another fourteener is in my future, but I am glad that I did it and now I can check this off my bucket list! The view and the feeling I had when I reached the top were just indescribably amazing. There is something so transcendent about standing on the top of a mountain, seeing clouds form and overlooking miles and miles of mountain ranges.
This is another one of those things that I can add to my ever-growing list of hard things I never imagined I would be able to do.
And, by the way, you can do hard things, too. Things you never thought possible.
Do any of these life lessons apply to your life right now? Comment below and tell me about it or shoot me an e-mail!