Hiking Lessons

My friend Don and I have been hiking together on weekends for a few years. Several months ago he exclaimed “let’s climb Half Dome next year,” ‘to which I replied, “you mean climb the face of Half Dome? Have you lost your mind? Ropes and carabineers? Definitely not happening dude.” Once he clarified that it was a 17 mile 5,000’ elevation trek at 8,840’ altitude that wound around the back of half dome and not the face of it, my dread to excitement meter pointed to guarded anticipation with a healthy dose of fear.

Over the following weeks we discussed Half Dome and Yosemite quite a bit and at some point Don said that his trainer suggested Panther Trail, arguably Austin’s most challenging hike. Round trip, the Panther has about 2500’ elevation change and 10,944 stairs over only 6 miles. In order to fully prep for Yosemite, we’d have to do this hike 3 times in a row.

It had been raining for several days before our first hike. The creek was high, the path was muddy and my feet got soaked. It was exhilarating. We named the hardest parts of the trail “ass-kicker one” and “ass-kicker two.” We kept after it every weekend and about 6 weeks in started going round trip twice. Officially dubbed the “double Panther,” this was a whole new level of hard. After a few double panthers, ass-kickers one and two evolved into “kick ass one” and kick ass two.” Getting your ass kicked to kicking ass was a major psychological hurdle involving a deep new mantra of gratitude to the hardest parts of the trail for making me stronger. The most beautiful parts of the trail were named “middle earth one” and “middle earth two;” cedar and dirt steps straight up & down with a 3’ wide creek-bed at the bottom. Glanced from either side they are a sight straight out of Lord of the Rings.

In addition to feeling the happy endorphins kick in when done, I have gained a new sense of emotional wellbeing from simple realizations along the path.  Here are a few of them:

-Don’t look at the mile markers along the way.
-Stop cursing the hard parts; tell them you love them because they are making you stronger.
-Enjoy being out in nature whatever the weather.
-Recognize natural markers along the way and give them funny names.
-Time the hikes & see if you can do better next time.
-Relish the happiness and sense of accomplishment when done.

The biggest challenge of all will be applying these hiking lessons to the rest of life. I’m grateful to be alive and the rest of my life will be an endeavor to do just that.