‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’ – Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
Yesterday, listening to a sermon on overcoming challenges, I thought how well some parts of it reminded me of a hike up a mountain I did with my classmates during a school trip. I learnt quite a few things on this hike, follow along as I tell you about it.
So, literally eighty percent of the class had said yes to the exploratory trip that day. For several of us, it would be the first time we would be hiking anywhere and for yet a very little few of us, hiking UP a mountain. For what it was worth, it sounded like fun and so many of the experienced trekkers were in such high spirits about it, one couldn’t help but join in the excitement and expectation of it all.
As had been proposed, we got to point of convergence and realized only half the number of people who had signed up were actually present. The other group apparently had decided to sleep in a while longer and start some hours later. With this clarified, the bus ride to the foot of the mountain began. One could easily tell the difference between the regular hikers and the new, which in this particular group, was just me. I was basically a cocoon of clothes, as the weather was slightly chilly. I wore a tight pair of jean trousers which were not very easy to go uphill in, had a small but heavy side purse slung on and wore the wrong kind of shoes. Everyone else had on something easy to run or walk in and a light- weight jacket, backpacks and the most important part, good climbing shoes that had a good solid grip. For me, these didn’t bother me, I was tough and ready to conquer this mountain- it really didn’t look like much at the start, plus I was sure my running etiquette back in my home country made for a sure win in this case. Boy, was I wrong!
Of course, I was the photo enthusiast here, my phone was out in minutes, taking several ‘one for the gram’ shots, much to the amusement of the others who were ready to just take this mountain down but joined in the fun anyway.
We started along the idyllic mountain base, our sights being fed with beautiful scenery and very expensive looking country houses, we chirped on about a wide range of topics and laughed at the fact that nobody wanted to discuss anything that had to do with school. Not too long into our hike, we came to a fork in the road that made even the regular hikers among us scratch their heads. The signs were there, directing us towards not just one but two mountains. It would be fine climbing up either, right? After all, they were both mountains. But no! For one of them, even though much easier to hike up, didn’t hold as much promise at the apex as did the other. From the more exciting one, we would be able to have a very clear view of the beautiful and acclaimed Mont Blanc, access to a bunch of lovely cafes and also ride the cable car down the mountain. But which was which? And as we stood there struggling for internet/ GPS connection and inadequate information/research, we decided to go for the smaller mountain, the petit Saleve.
Still uncertain about the path we had taken, we were a good hour into our hike before a kind elderly gentleman who was travelling alone gave us all the information we needed to make a complete turnaround and head back down to the point of decision. Back at the foot of the mountain, we located a quaint old café and had a hearty French breakfast before continuing on our journey. This time when we got to the crossroads, we knew which direction to take.
As we made our way along the well-travelled path up the mountain, my initial excitement gradually fizzled, being replaced with tiredness, an ‘are we there yet’ spirit and me questioning my decision of hike, over the more fun and relaxed cable car ride which a couple of my colleagues had opted for. To turn back now would mean spoiling the trip for everyone and so forge on I did, and through the pellets of perspiration on my face, I gained a sage perspective at conquering a mountain that amused me greatly but holds a lot of truth.
GOOD PREPARATION IS ESSENTIAL
Apart from the wisdom about wearing good shoes which I’d seen earlier, I understood quickly that a few preparatory steps were necessary, like knowing how many mountains there were and which would give a good view of the alps. Finding out from a local, someone who had done the journey before or doing good research before setting off, would have served a better resource than our reliance on the GPS or internet which had limitations and had eventually failed us.
DON’T CARRY WHAT YOU DON’T NEED
I noticed how out of shape I was as with each next step I took, my breathing got heavier and the sweat came down in torrents. My heavy jacket and layered clothing which had been a source of warmth at the start were now the very source of great discomfort and my side purse weighed a ton. My experienced colleagues were nice, one tucked my purse away in her backpack and the other took my jacket tucked it away around her backpack. As they shared their water and trail mix of nuts and dried fruits with me, I realized I would have been completely fine without the heavy side purse and perhaps with a lighter jacket but water and something to keep my sugar level right were indispensable.
FOLLOW THE (TRUSTED) SIGNS
As we went higher, the value of the well placed signs could not be overemphasized. In some places that was the only salvation from taking a path that looked good or natural instead of the one that would lead us to our desired destination, and our phones, GPS and internet were as good as dead to us.
NOT FOR THE SWIFT
I learnt also that you shouldn’t run on these hiking trails, well not unless you’re super- experienced at it or you’re attempting suicide,(giggle). The path is well-littered with sharp rocks, pointy tree parts and some slippery steps and one can easily end up hurt if care is not taken. Also the faster you move up, the earlier you run out of energy.
It is important to pace oneself and move steadily instead of quickly with the sole aim of finishing.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALONE
Well, especially if you are a newbie like me and even when you are experienced. It is so much more fun having someone to chat with, a hand to pull you up when a step is tricky and like I had already discovered, someone to carry some of your load for you when you run out of energy or the incline gets too steep.
At a couple of clearings we arrived at, I was so happy that the climb was finally over, only to find out after blurting my relief that it was far from over. At these points, my excitement would turn into ‘oh no! there’s more?’ and may have very well called it a day if I was going alone. However, the determined people I was doing the climb with held the end goal in view and their motivation kept us all moving forward.
REFRESH (PAUSE TO BREATH AND WELL, TAKE SELFIES)
At these clearings, we caught our breath, drank some water, munched on the trail mix and of course, took some pictures. This was fun and refreshing and we would return to our trail with renewed strength.
It is fine to take a pause sometimes, regroup, research, catch your breath, take a deep one and then get back on the track.
NEW LEVELS, NEW DEVILS
As we went higher, the climb did get more challenging. We were more tired than when we began and our anticipation of the end wasn’t making it come any faster. I found however that, our experience at the earlier levels made us a tad more confident that we could clear this level as well. Also the reminder that several hikers had done this before and some were doing it even as we did ours was a great push.
ENJOY, DON’T ENDURE
We were almost at our destination when I realized it had actually been an intense but fun and interesting activity. I had been so tired and weighed down by how difficult the climb was that I had not relaxed and enjoyed it till it was almost over, I had been counting the kilometer marks on the guide posts. Given, it is tough to keep a positive outlook when the situation looks otherwise, however, it is the best attitude. To see the attractions we so desire, we had to climb the mountain, going around it would not get us there. We could have gone up by cable car, but would have missed a number of interesting sightings along the trail path and the joy and pride in my heart for having ‘conquered’ this mountain would not have been the same as if I’d done it by cable car.
We got to the apex to discover that, our colleagues who had slept in, had already arrived. They obviously had planned better, one of them had climbed up this same mountain in the past and knew the course well and had been a good guide for them. We all caught up and went on to enjoy the view and the great food the cafes had.
I realized it wasn’t so much about starting first, we had started first and still finished last. Neither was it about finishing first, we got to the same end point and got to spend a grand afternoon together. It was more about how well you do the climb, taking time to notice and enjoy the trail and making the most of the people and opportunities to learn available to you on the journey. The climb is to be enjoyed and not just endured.
And the view of the mountain after we had descended was so much better than the view when we began.