Lessons from the Journey

     If you’ve seen my previous post you already know I spent last Saturday hiking Valencia Peak trail for my 50th birthday.  I approached this task with many reflections regarding my passage to the half-century mark, but with quite a cavalier attitude about the hike itself.  I am no mountain climber, but the peaks in California are mere hills, I thought to myself. Valencia Peak is only 1347 feet up, as reported by the website.  I was sure this hike would pose no difficulties for me.  And it didn’t, at first.
     The bottom half of the hike is a friendly trail with a gradual grade.  It affirmed my belief that this would be a cake walk.  I was mildly surprised when we started hitting patches of crumbling rocks with little place for sure footing, but it was still no great challenge for me. Near the halfway point, that changed.  The grade became steeper.  At the same time the beaten path disappeared and combinations of smooth and crumbling rocks took over.  Not ready to tell my daughter, and hiking partner, that I was beginning to tire, I suggested more frequent water breaks.  We continued to creep up the ever steepening hill, and I began to gulp for air.  My heart pounded way too hard against my chest.  As we stopped for our umpteenth water break I had to admit to my daughter that I was having trouble.  I doubled over to lower my heart’s position and slow its rate.  While waiting for that to happen, I encouraged my daughter to go ahead at her own pace and let me catch up when I could. (I secretly hoped she’d make it to the top and back to me before I had to climb the two final ramps of trail I could see along the mountain’s side, just before the top.)  She dutifully declined and we continued.
      Next we reached a plateau, about three-fourths of the way through the trail.  It had a great view of the valley below.  We considered letting this be our “top” of the hill.  We could take a great picture and start our descent.  Then we turned around and saw the two remaining “ramps” up to the real peak.  We knew what we had to do.  The water breaks turned into breathing breaks and the struggle was real.  Those last two legs of the journey were the most difficult, nevertheless we made it to the top.

     There was nowhere to sit on the boulders that made up the apex of this hill.  So we stood and looked over the valley below and the trail we had just scaled.  We took our pictures, drank more water and caught our breath. Then we happily began our descent.   Hiking was so much more pleasant going down the hill. I could breath and enjoy the scenery. Although I did become aware of a whole new set of muscles being put to use, I was greatly relieved at the relative ease with which we glided down the mountain.  It seemed like no time at all passed before we reached the ending point of our hike.

Along the way, I was struck with a few more reflections from the physical aspects of my hike.

When it was hardest, just before the top, I didn’t think I could do it, but I did. At least once I was sure I was physically incapable of climbing to the top.  I was wrong and I did accomplish that goal. This leaves me wondering how many other times in life I have nearly accomplished something but didn’t because I was sure I was not capable.  How many of those times was I wrong? How many opportunities and blessings have I missed because I mistakenly believed I was unable to do something?  And most importantly, will I be able to find new confidence to know all that I am capable of?

On my trek down the hill, I felt empathy for people I passed just going up.  I knew how I’d felt climbing up and I wanted to “help” by sharing some of my new knowledge of the trail with them.  Yet I didn’t.  Wisdom, my filter, call it what you will, kicked in and I didn’t say anything more than “good morning.”  I left passersby to their own experiences and interpretations of the trail.  As I am starting down the hill of my life I often feel that same way.  I so want to share my unsolicited wisdom with my younger colleagues and family members.  I’ve been through situations like the ones they are in, and I could tell them just what their responses should be and what happens next.  Yet on a good day I do not.  Instead I respect that each journey is unique and each person must learn from their own choices and mistakes.  As much as I want to guide them to what I have found to be the correct path, I have to let them find their own footing up the hill.

It was much faster navigating down the hill than it had been climbing up.  It’s a universally accepted truth that the trip home is always mysteriously shorter than the trip to whatever the destination. The life analogy is obvious. The second half of life will no doubt be the more concise half.  Coasting down the hill will be fun and most likely swift. Time seems relevant anyway, regardless of calendar days.  For children, from one birthday to the next seems like an eternity.  But the more we age, the sooner birthdays come. Even if I live another 50 years, they will seem to pass by more quickly.  Still, I’ll glide happily down the hill until I reach the end of my hike.  The trip is always shorter on the way home.


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