During days of hiking in the wilderness with her son, Susan made discoveries about her child, herself, and the challenges of any great journey. She reflects on her lessons in this three part series.
It began with a conversation near Christmas. When my children are home for the holidays, this coach mom loves to talk about the year ahead. My son Jack hoped to do more hiking. Both being achievers who like a challenge, Jack and I quickly went from idea to action plan for an autumn hike on the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Traversing into unknown territory, as anyone experiencing divorce knows, is more easily accomplished with a plan. These questions can help.
- What do I need to know?
Jack’s knife was tucked into the side of the tent. In the event of a bear attack, he knew what to do. As for me, I needed to know how to adjust the straps on my backpack and whether or not I could wear the same socks three days in a row.
My lesson: Learn as much as you can before you head out on your quest.
- When is the best time?
If we went in the summer, we were likely to encounter lots of other people. If we went in September, there was a risk of rain and snow. We weren’t sure. There was no perfect time.
There was also no guarantee we would be allowed on the trail as permission was granted by lottery. In March Jack applied for the mandatory permit—six months in advance.
My lesson: There is no perfect time. Plan ahead, pick one, and go.
- Who will be my guide?
“We can rest any time.” “Don’t feel like you have to keep up this pace.” “Are you drinking enough water?” “You should eat.” “How are you feeling?” “You’ll be fine.”
Jack was my able guide. From ensuring I had the right shoes to map navigation back to the trail when I led us off course, he helped me to feel safe, supported, and capable.
His experience was vital. A minimally experienced camper, I had never spent days away from civilization, getting water from lakes and streams, and eating only the food carried in bear bins in backpacks.
My lesson: Pick the guide you trust with the knowledge, skills, and experience to see you through.
- What about the dangers?
We started our hike in Yosemite, where curious black bears have an incredible sense of smell and enormous appetites. Other dangers were less obvious. “Temperatures are likely to hit freezing; you’ll need a different jacket.” and “People can get seriously injured at the end of a long hike because they’re fatigued.”
My lesson: Be vigilant and protect yourself from potential dangers.
- How do I prepare?
Living far from mountains, I trained with weeks of pre-dawn walks with my buddy Sasha, hikes on hills at a nearby nature center with a backpack loaded with books, and trudged up and down the 24 stairs in my home. But what if I lost my grit? I chose my mantra: I am stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m committed. I’m smiling. All three true.
My lesson: Your fears and limitations may stay with you, but a plan and preparation will see you to your destination.