Hiking through nature can provide you with innumerable nuggets of life lesson gold, as long as you peer into the creek long enough to notice those shiny honey-hued pebbles.
It’s no secret that nature is how I come up with the vast majority of these blog posts. Almost every time I’m feeling down, unmindful, or even when I’m feeling just dandy, I go on a hike. And almost every time I'm out there I discover something on the trail that inspires me, gives me a new frame of reference, or teaches me a lesson.
One very important lesson, and one I always have trouble truly absorbing, is having the patience to see something through to the end.
I'm not a quitter in any sense--when I set my mind to a project, I always see it through. Always.
But when I get that finish line on sight, I have a tendency to rush it, to grow impatient, to become a little bit lackadaisical.
During one hike a few months ago in Los Angeles, I decided to take an unfamiliar spur trail. It quickly became incredibly steep and I considered turning back, but I knew I'd be afforded amazing views at the top so I went for it. And it was worth it, the views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Sign were indeed spectacular.
But then, of course, I had to come back down the steep trail.
I was as cautious as humanly possible, side-stepping my way down to gain better footing. Then I got about 10 feet from the end of the trail and, well, I decided to run it. It was just right there, hardly any risk, and why not have a little fun. I decided I could be reckless at least for the very end. I decided I didn't need to see it through.
That decision quickly proved to be a bad one. As I was running down I stepped on a sandy patch that yanked me to the ground, ass first. My tailbone hit square on a rock and I heard my spine crack.
Now back on level ground, I pulled myself up, immediately utilized some of my favorite yoga spine stretches, and pretended to ignore the passers-bye so as to limit my embarrassment.
After a few weeks the pain and discomfort subsided. I was fine. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme, but an important lesson in the aggregate: see everything through to the end. Even when you think you got it in the bag, see it through. Even when you think you've screwed it all up, see it through. Even when it's literally all downhill from here, see it through.
I don't always remember this lesson in real life. I still get impatient and like to rush the end so I can move on to the next big thing. Some people start to stumble on a big project and the first thought is to give up. Two sides of the same coin. Two instances where in the vast majority of situations you'll find far more success when you see it through.
No matter what my own failings, there's one place where the lesson has stuck, and that's in hiking.
Last week I day hiked to the pinnacle of Half Dome. It's not just a pinnacle of a mountain, it’s a pinnacle of my nature and hiking obsession, and perhaps a pinnacle of my life. I prepared and planned and prepped and had an awesome partner-in-crime to go along for the ride.
We made it to the top and were elated, of course. And after you've gotten there one might assume that the worst is over, all downhill from there. But that assumption would be wrong. As most hikers will tell you, it’s usually harder going down than going up.
Rappelling backwards down the infamous Half Dome cables was a feat of mental and physical strength. The slippery polished granite path forces you to rely almost entirely on your arms. Traffic from hikers going in the other direction adds a whole separate element of patience and negotiation. The pangs of fear I felt after a simple glance down or to the side were, at times, overwhelming.
When I had just 30 feet of cable left I felt my impatient self got an idea: I could turn around and run it. But when I did turn and took my first step on the slick granite, I felt my foot shake. I flashed back to the lesson from that trail in Los Angeles, the lesson that I know but don't always follow.
I turned back around and continued my cautious repel for those final 30 feet. See it through, Jason. See it all the way through until it’s completed. Always see it through.
When we're mindful of every step, every step is more valuable, every step is sturdy, every step is useful, and in the end we've accomplished what we set out to do in the best way we possibly could. When we cut the corner at the last moment or give up in the final stretch, we not only cheapen our effort, but we risk ruining everything we’ve worked so hard for.
Or at least we risk a few weeks of tailbone pain.
It's an important lesson I always try to remember when I’m on the dirt trail. It's an important lesson I need to remember more on the trail of life as well.