Tag Archives: hiking

The Secret To Mountain Climbing Is To Go At Your Own Pace & Other Life Lessons On The Path

31 May

Take a little time to enjoy the view


Last weekend I went hiking with my Dad and my Stepmom.  I am a fan of indoor plumbing and not a particularly outdoorsy person, and the last time I went hiking with my father was 13 years ago.  We had gotten a late start, and as the sun was setting I recall clutching the side of a steep, rocky ledge, paralyzed by fear and crying as the coyotes howled in the (hopefully) distance (not totally sure about this coyote part by that’s how I remember it – intensely dramatic).  I also remember finding out the name of the trail we were climbing – Breakneck Ridge – while I was already enmeshed in it with No Turning Back, as I certainly would not have consented to going on the hike had I known that ahead of time.


My Dad grew up in Colorado and he and other members of our family have that outdoorsy gene that I lack.  However, 13 years had passed, and I felt ready to give it another try.  After all, I like to overcome challenges and do things I am afraid to do – to a point – and I even wrote my college essay about a hike I went on in the Colorado Rockies, on which there were several markers along the trail where you could turn back, and I kept thinking, “I’ll just go to one more, just one more,” and then I made it all the way to the end of the trail, and to the top, in that way.


Making the arrangements for our Memorial Day weekend hike, I was excited to spend the time with my family, and for the peace and perspective that being outside, in the woods, above everything, and away from the breakneck pace of city-living, gives me.  My Dad, being the one with the outdoorsy genes and the knowledge of mountains, is in charge of picking the trails we will take.  I said to him, now able to joke about it all these years later, “Member that hike we went on 13 years ago when I was clinging to the side of the mountain?” and my Dad, an adventurer enthusiastic about difficult hikes and obviously having a different recollection of said hike than I did, was like, “Yeah, let’s do that one again!” and I was like, “That’s the reason I haven’t hiked in 13 years!”


So after much emphasis on my part that I wanted a very gentle hike, my Dad picked a trail that wound up being perfect.  It was actually enough of a challenge that I felt like it was tough and I had to work hard and pay attention, and felt pushed to do more than I thought I could, but not so much of a challenge that I broke down into tears and dangled from a ledge.


As we set off on our hike, my stepmother told the story of a nun she knew named Cathleen, who, years ago, had hiked Mt. Sinai at 4am with a guide and a group when she was close to 60 years old.  The rest of the group was much younger and Cathleen was embarrassed that she had to stop to rest frequently.  But the guide stayed with her and said, “The secret to mountain climbing is to go at your own pace.  You will get there much more quickly if you stop to rest when you need to.”  Half-way through the hike, Cathleen and her guide passed the rest of the younger members in the group, who were already exhausted from pushing themselves too hard. 


My stepmother rested when she needed to rest along our hike, and every time she slowed down or stopped she would announce that she was taking a break, and it always reminded me to take a moment to pay attention to how I was feeling, and if I needed to rest.  All three of us made it to the top of the trail we were climbing, and her story also reminded me that there are a lot of life lessons to be learned from a hike:


1)  When you rest along the way, you get there faster

I am a relentless workaholic, and push myself to exhaustion with all my projects and my constant need to be doing something all the time.  What this results in is bursts of productivity followed by the need to drop it all and rest, and the inability to do anything.  I am getting better at identifying for myself those times along the way when I need to rest and take care of myself – book a massage, get a pedicure, take a walk in the park, carve out time to sit in a cushy chair in a coffee shop and read something just for fun, or declare a full day of doing no work and not even turning my computer on.  When I set time limits on how long I can work on something, and reward myself at the end of that time period with a fun, social, or restorative plan, I am much more efficient than when I allow my workload to stretch out endlessly before me.  I can get the same amount done and feel much more energized and focused while doing it when there is an end, and treats, and rest, in sight.


2)  When faced with what seems like an insurmountable challenge, just take it one step at a time and don’t look at the whole mountain

Parts of this hike were really, really steep, and I would catch myself looking ahead to take in the big picture and think to myself:  “No freaking’ way I’m going to make it up that!”  But then I would narrow my focus and only look directly in front of me, and just take one step and then the next, and I didn’t notice that the incline was so steep anymore.  When I was in 4th grade, I remember panicking to my mother about all the homework I had to do that night and how I was never going to finish it, and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t do anything at all.  (In my defense, I had a very difficult 4th grade teacher who had us memorize the Declaration of Independence, all the presidents thus far, the Gettysburg Address, and Patrick Henry’s speech (“The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!  Why stand we here idle?”…), and recite them in front of the class and a video camera and get critiqued on the playback).  My mother had to calm me down and break it all down for me so that I could forget about the full picture and put it into manageable chunks.  I still have to remind myself to chunk it down when I have a huge mountainous mound of work in front of me to conquer, and make it manageable by taking it step by step.


3)  The straightest path is not always the best route – sometimes it is better to go at a diagonal

Half my lifetime ago on a hike in Colorado, my Dad taught me that when the trail is really steep, both on the way up and on the way down, and you don’t think you can make it without falling, the best route is to take it at a diagonal.  On the way up, walking at a diagonal makes the incline less steep and easier to climb, and on the way down the diagonal will slow you down so you don’t slip and fall.  In my life, I often get frustrated that I am not farther along than I am, in my finances, relationships, career, and not more successful and together overall.  I want to take that straight, fast route to the top, and am irritated when I am slowed down by diagonals.  However, I believe that the Universe gives you what you can handle when you can handle it, and all life’s experiences are preparing you for what’s next.  A lot of the most important and richest lessons I’ve learned have been located in the nooks of those diagonals, and if I just skipped straight to the top, I wouldn’t have the appreciation, understanding, and compassion I’ve developed on the seemingly slower and more circuitous route.


4)  Be present and pay attention as you choose your footing or you will fall off a cliff

During the hike, there were big tree roots and loose rocks and jagged edges, and I had to be very present and pay close attention to where I was stepping.  If I had zoned out and daydreamed about how I want things to be, or worried about things I said or did in the past, I would have fallen many, many times, and if I checked out as we approached the top and gazed down below, I could have fallen off the side of a cliff.  It is easy to go on autopilot, space out, and abdicate responsibility for your life.  It is easy to daydream about how you wish things could be different or better now and in the future, and beat yourself up about the things you did wrong in the past.  But then, all of a sudden you will find yourself at the bottom of some ditch of despair, having no idea how you got there, and even less of an idea how to get out.  When you pay attention, you wake up to all the options and opportunities available to you, and it becomes clear exactly where you need to step next.


5)  Take time to enjoy the view & bask in the sun!

You did it!  You made it!  You accomplished your goal.  Now it’s time to slow down, kick back, and enjoy!  When we were almost at the top of the trail, a spectacular view of the Hudson River opened up, and I turned to look at it instead of rushing past without noticing, on my way to get somewhere else, somewhere better.  This sight was actually only visible on the way there, as the peak of the trail was surrounded by trees that obscured the expansive river view.  At the very top, I lied down on a rock, stretched out, and felt the sun on my face.  Life is not all about pushing yourself hard, and where to get to next; it is also about actively creating those moments where you very consciously appreciate all your hard work it took to get there, and enjoy being exactly where you are.  Check out the view.  Feel the sun on your face.  Really see and hear the people around you, your friends and family, and allow yourself to deeply experience how much you love them, and how much they love you.  Count your blessings.  Bask in joy.  Breathe deeply.  You deserve it.



Wishing you the energy, vitality, enthusiasm, and passion to reach the peak of all your destinations, and the mindfulness to enjoy every single step along the way!


Lots of love!


Jen xoxoxo


Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Garam