“Stronger Everyday”

September 29, 2016

One of the blogs I read before taking off on the West Coast Trail warned hikers about the sheer grit and mental stamina required to successfully complete the trail.  This was perhaps the best piece of preparatory advice I could have read–more useful and helpful during my experience than the blogs I read detailing how to pack the lightest backpack, what food and clothes to bring, how to hang food away from bears, what best gear to buy, and how to train for the trek.

In my experience, regardless of how well prepared I was in some aspects and how terribly ill prepared I was in other aspects, completing the trail came down to merely grit and stamina–the will to persevere physically and mentally in the face of unpredictable challenges of varying degrees (whether that was impassable headlands, hazardous river crossings, knee-deep mud, or one of many many sets of slippery as fuck 30 feet ladders); one foot in front of the other, or in some cases one foot above the other, on and on and on.

In trying to access whatever grit and stamina I had in me while I was hiking, I found myself rehearsing in my head what Robin often repeats during class: “stronger everyday”.  I had to convince myself that, contrary to feeling increasingly exhausted and weak, I was actually getting stronger  with every step and every day; I told myself I was stronger than I was yesterday, stronger than I was in the first 10 kilometers, stronger than I was when I climbed the first ladder….the second ladder…and so on.

Step by step, I witnessed the true power of “mind over matter”.   We can do more than we physically feel we can if only we believe in our minds that we can.

Secondly, I also learned during this hike–in addition to the above–that having a hand to hold along the way helps to reduce the size of a scary situation.  I keep thinking of the moment M offered me his hand to help me cross the 6 feet gap between two cliffs about 20 feet above water.  I remember thinking I would fall, that there was no way I could balance myself and my 40 pound pack well enough to walk across this 6 inch wide wooden plank to get to the other side.  I froze.  I just stood there.  If M hadn’t offered me his hand to hold as I walked across, I am quite convinced I would still be there or back at the start line.  Thank the Universe for Friends.  Thank the Universe that I have such True Friends.  I have friends who will hold my hiking poles as I clumsily climb up ladders, descend ladders, and cross various suspended bridges and boardwalks; friends who will offer me a kleenex when my nose is runny and my eyes are teary without judgement; friends who will help me boil water from the stream as I sit and watch; friends who will not only offer to share their tent with me, but whom I can count on to set up and take down said tent when I was clueless how to do either.  I have friends who even packed me a Lindt Lava Cake chocolate bar to celebrate my birthday because hey, there are no dehydrated hike-appropriate cakes and after all, Lindt is my favourite chocolate brand.  So while maybe these friends did not wait for me every step of the way, and while maybe they got my sleeping pad wet and sandy some nights, and while maybe they would ask for me to help with random tasks when my hands were full–at the very end of the day, I knew I was safe with them, I knew I could depend on them, and I knew they were lifetime friends.

I am a lucky lady to find lifetime friends.  I realized through the challenges of the West Coast Trail that as much as I like being alone and take pride in being able to do things on my own, “two is better than one”, if only for company and support.

We finished our half of the trail in almost exactly 3 days.  We could’ve likely completed 33km in less time than that.  My friends certainly could have, I know that for sure.  But one final key learning for me is that slow and steady is a-okay.  The hike, much like life with its uncertainties, challenges, and rewards, is not a race.  Each of our experiences along the same walk will differ; our strengths will differ along with our weaknesses.  I personally would rather enjoy the trek as much as possible, attend to my steps and the sights along the way, and limit my bumps and bruises.

Hiking the West Coast Trail was the worst of times and the best of times.  Only when I could fully accept the worst–the unyielding mud at every turn, the slippery riverbeds, the plethora of wet and slimy ladders (I keep talking about ladders….), and all the broken boardwalks, for example–could I then embrace the best: the friends who talked me through my fears, the magical view of the milky way, and all the unique sights we traversed through, across, and atop.

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