As many of you know, I’ve gotten a bit more into hiking in the last couple of years. With an amazing state to live in like NH, it’s not hard to see why! I’ve been fascinated by the Appalachian Trail for years, which just happens to run through our beautiful state. In the context of our focus on Patience this month, I’ve been really struck by one bit of advice often given to people that are attempting to hike the whole trail.
If you aren’t familiar with it at all, the Appalachian trail begins in Georgia and runs up the east coast all the way to Maine. The part that runs through NH starts in Hanover and makes its way through the White Mountains, giving it a well deserved reputation for being some of the hardest miles on the trail. Just the idea of thru hiking this 2000+ mile footpath is daunting. Most people who attempt it start in February or March and end their journey in Maine sometime in September or October, hoping that the weather cooperates enough to allow a safe and snowless passage to the northern terminus on Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park.
For those keeping score, that’s about six months of walking through all kinds of weather with somewhere in the neighborhood of (for most people) 30-50 pounds of gear on your back. No small undertaking!
Needless to say, there are a lot of people that don’t make it the whole way. In fact, 1 in 4 that start don’t make it to the end. There are many reasons people pack it in and go home. I can only imagine when it’s raining, cold, you’re sore all over, you’ve got very little food left in your pack and you have to climb one more hill before you can finish for the day, every cell of your being must scream, “Why the *(#$&# am I doing this?!” Nevermind, having some kind of injury.
But the advice I keep seeing offered to the people that are thinking they can’t make it over and over again is, “Don’t quit on a bad day!” Interesting, right? Don’t most of us quit when things are at their worst? When we just can’t go one more (proverbial or otherwise) mile? When things look so bleak we just can’t fathom continuing or muster the energy to do so?
But consider the idea of waiting for a “good day”. In the case of the trail, you wait until the weather is beautiful, you’ve got a belly full of food, maybe a beautiful view, some nice people surrounding you and your body feels pretty good. You’re making progress, you’re dry and comfortable and then and only then, if you still want to go home and end your epic undertaking, you go home.
In my mind, that really speaks to patience and trust.
The patience to see yourself through until that good day comes is paired with the trust of knowing that the sun will shine again. If you didn’t trust the clouds would part, you would never be able to wait long enough to see it happen.
In our yoga practice, when we focus on the breath, we let go of our exhales only because we know that the next breath is right there waiting for us. If we didn’t have that trust how could we release our breath? We trust that some day we might make it into that difficult pose we’re trying to master. Through that trust we are able to bring ourselves back to the mat over and over and over again.
So maybe the next time you’re ready to throw in the proverbial towel, you think about all those people out there who are walking from Georgia to Maine and remember this great wisdom. Maybe you cultivate the patience and trust to remember that when the sun shines again, that might be the best time to make that big decision. The view from on top of that sunny hill will be far more clear and help you make the best decision possible.
[Incidentally, someone in our own back yard is going to attempt a thru hike in 2019! Best wishes to Sara Hikes! I’ll definitely be cheering you on!]