“How much longer?” I whined, dragging one foot exhaustively in front of the other, waddling back and forth like a duck.
My friend beside me huffed, “I’m not taking you next time.”
I was so relieved that I would never have to suffer this agony again. We had been hiking for the past hour and I hated it. In my mind I tried to justify a two-hour uphill hike with ten minutes of looking at a pretty view, and then another hour hike back to my car. What was the point, I wondered to myself. I decided several times over the next couple of hours that a pretty view wasn’t a significant reward for three hours of pain.
A few years later, after college, I was living at home, attending grad school, when I decided to give hiking another try. My Mom and I had both just quit smoking, so we decided that we should celebrate by trying a new hobby. We drove to Great Falls Maryland to hike the Billy Goat Trail. The name comes from the trail itself, a series of scrambling over rocks, scaling a wall of solid rock, and jumping from formation to formation, like a billy goat. I had so much fun jumping from rock to rock, navigating a clear path, and looking out over the water. The Billy Goat trail doesn’t have an overlook per se, but there are gorgeous views of the Potomac river wherever you look.
But all of this is background information leading up to the one hike that changed my view on hiking forever. And that was when my Mom and I hiked Old Rag Mountain. My Mom and I had tackled a few easy hikes around the northern Virginia area, and we were ready to try something a bit more extreme. Old Rag mountain was supposedly a tough hike with a nice view as a reward. My Mom and I started out and quickly realized that this would not be an easy hike. There were no points where the trail evened out and we got a reprieve, it was straight up hill. We stopped several times just to catch our breaths; and I started wandering again why I was doing this.
This is stupid, why did I even decide to do this? We should just turn around. This isn’t even going to be worth it… The thought in my head kept rolling and I felt myself getting angry for no apparent reason. Then, I started to think about myself: I’m so fat I can’t even go twenty minutes without a break, I’m such a loser, I’m not good for anything… I was at the point where I didn’t think I could go on anymore when we came to an amazing overlook. My breath caught in my throat as I looked out over purple mountains and a light blue sky and millions of evergreen trees. You know that feeling when you wish you could drink something up with your eyes? That, no matter how hard or long you looked at something that it would never be enough? When you see something so beautiful you wander whether it is really real or not? That’s how I felt. But you know what made it even more beautiful? The struggle. I had made it to this beautiful place. My body, had carried me this far, was it always fun? No. Did I enjoy it all of the time? Most certainly not. Was the struggle worth it in the end? Yes, without a doubt. As I sat down, just absorbing the view around me, I felt so incredibly thankful. And I felt confident, yes, I just climbed that mountain, I’m awesome!
But the hike wasn’t over. We still had not reached the summit. After wandering along for a few more minutes, we came upon these huge rocks. Right in the middle of our path. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we would have to find a good foothold in the rocks, and literally pull ourselves up with our arm strength to get over these rocks. Not once did I think about turning around, or question my strength. Those rocks were in my way and I was going to overpower them. I tested several cracks along the rocks where I might be able to perch my size 11 foot in order to haul my 5’9 frame over the rocks. After several tries I found a suitable hole, and reaching as far up on the rock as I could, I pulled myself up. The result was me landing on top of the rock, on my chest, so I had to scramble, like a snake, to pull my stomach and legs up on the rock. I’m sure I looked quite hilarious as I huffed and squirmed my way up. But when I got to the top I felt like I had conquered the world. And as I looked out over our path, I could see nothing but giant boulders. My one thought was: bring it on.
It took my Mom and I an hour to scramble over all of the rocks before we reached the summit. And the view was every bit as beautiful as I could have ever imagined. It had taken us three and a half hours to hike up the mountain. We stayed at the top for twenty minutes, and it took us about two and a half hours to get back to our car. And that twenty minutes was worth all of the struggle.
I fell in love with hiking that day because it stood out perfectly in my mind as a metaphor for life. I’ve been through struggles in my life, things that I thought I would never get over. And I beat myself up about it with negative talk. I was never smart enough, pretty enough, funny enough, I was a failure. All of this work was leading nowhere, or at least nowhere that I could see. But, just like hiking, there is no straight path in life. Sometimes you have to go away from your destination in order to get to where you’re going. Sometimes, you have to struggle. And it’s not going to be easy, and you’re going to have to keep going even when you think you can’t go anymore. And there are things that are going to be in your way, like those big rocks in my path. But instead of fearing them, or getting mad or frustrated or giving up, look at those rocks and say (in the words of Edmund Dantes in The Count of Montecristo) do your worst, for I shall do mine! And you find a way over those rocks and keep going! Because at the end of it all, there is something beautiful for you. There is a purpose to your struggle, and it’s because of the struggle that the destination will be so great.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in wishing your life away and hating the journey of life. As Sigmund Freud said, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” There is something that inspires confidence when you make it through the struggle. And sometimes the struggling, the knowing that you can do it, that you do have the ability to tackle something, is the best reward, and realization of them all. So, the next time that you think you aren’t good enough, that what you’re doing is too hard, and you’ll never get over it, go for a hike. And remember that you are good enough, strong enough, brave enough, to conquer anything!