A few weeks ago, my husband and I went backpacking with a few of his friends. Having just come off a crazy workweek, we hadn’t spent a lot of time researching or preparing for the upcoming backpacking trip. The only thing we really knew about it was that there was no water source, so we would have to pack in all of our water, and that it was only supposed to be a few miles to the campsite.
We were set to leave Saturday morning, and so Friday night Teddy and I finally starting packing our things together, and thinking through what the trip might look like. We decided we wanted to bring extra water just in case the people we were going with might need a little extra for things like cooking and hand washing, and got a 10 liter bladder (a very excessive amount of water). We frantically started to pack food, mostly based on what we had in terms of dried food in our house, and this combo lead to some very heavy packs.
By the time we met up with our friends and set-off on the couple-hour drive to the mountain, things seemed like it would be a pretty easy hike. We were going to take a chairlift for the first part of the hike, and then would spend the afternoon hiking to the summit, where we would set-up camp.
The thing about this hike, it’s almost entirely uphill. With the extra weight of excess water and food, after only a few steps our packs felt almost unbearable. Add this to the fact that neither Teddy or myself had been backpacking in at least a year, if not two. (My old wilderness guide self would be ashamed). We were really in for a rough trip.
As we continued on this seemingly impossible hike, things only seemed to get harder and steeper. It felt like the flat, level stretches were few and far between. I started to realize why most people did this as a day-hike, rather than lugging extra weight to the top of this mountain.
The day went on, and I really felt like my legs might stop working. Each step required an immense amount of strength. Mostly it was mental strength to keep moving forward, because at this point I was seriously dragging behind the rest of the pack. Out of breath and looking up at the ever-growing mountain I was trying to climb, I realized I need to only focus on taking one more step. I had to adjust my gaze from the overwhelming site of how much is left, or other steep sections to come, and instead I shifted my focus to the next step in front of me. When I kept going one step at a time, I finally felt like I was making progress.
I think the same is true in life. Sometimes we face these big, scary challenges that seem impossible to face. It feels as though we will never reach the top. The summit seems too much to handle. But if we focus on the next right step, things start to feel a little more possible. If we focus on taking tiny steps of progress, we will continue working a little closer to our goal, rather than becoming paralyzed with fear and not moving at all.
When I was a wilderness guide, we would often have students flop on their backpack in the snow, like a turtle, and completely refuse to move. No matter how long they screamed and pouted and shut down, eventually we would have to make our way to our next water source.
Staying stagnant is simply not an option. Instead, refocus on taking just one step at a time. Before you know it, you will be at the summit, gazing at a gorgeous sunset. And then the next day, you’ll have to do it all over again.