We went hiking on Sunday and it was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever taken.
We set out knowing that we had chosen a tough trail. Even though it was only two miles to the top of the mountain, we would gain 1000 feet with every mile, and the steep trail was full of large rocks that were hard to climb.
Add to that intense heat — it was 93 F but it felt hotter in the sun — and you have a recipe for exhaustion. Fortunately, we are experienced hikers. We had plenty of water, sunblock, and food with us. We wore hats, stuck to the shade, and took long breaks.
As we slogged up the mountain, lots of people passed us going both directions, including people who were running. (This is Colorado. The outdoor crowd is insanely fit.) We continued to slog.
By noon, I was done. I was struggling to make my leaden legs climb up yet another slope just minutes after I’d had a snack and a long rest break. I felt like crying.
We came to a fork in the trail. Dogs weren’t allowed on the section that led from the junction up to the peak. On top of that, it was spitting rain (lovely, cooling rain!) and thundering. So we sat for a while, waiting for the storm to pass, and trying to decide what we wanted to do.
In the end, my husband and our friend went on while Dory and I sat in the shade resting, waiting for their return. They were gone for about an hour and a half, and during that time I had a talk with myself.
I felt like a failure.
For over a year now, I’ve been eating a healthy diet that has been hard for me to follow but is actually healing me. For a year and a half, I’ve been sweating through a hard gym class every week, putting up with the fatigue and aches that go with it, but clearly getting stronger in the process. I’ve been adding other exercise whenever I can, doing my best to get fit.
I was now sitting on a mountain, drained and feeling ill, while my two companions, both a decade older than I am, climbed to the top without me. Every now and then people would go by on the trail, some walking, some running.
It was depressing.
I reminded myself: Compare and despair. Comparing my performance to someone else’s is a waste of time. It’s like comparing apples to armadillos. Whether or not I can keep up with someone else doesn’t matter. The only performance I should compare to mine is my own.
How am I doing compared to my past self? Amazingly well. Such a hike would have been impossible for me only a year ago. In addition, I was up early the following morning, full of energy. Previously, letting myself get so tired meant days of recovery afterwards.
On the hike back to the car, I found I felt pretty good considering how the morning had gone. The cloud cover protected us from the sun and the temperature was cooler. The long rest while the others were gone had revived my legs. Taking my socks off so they could dry left my tired feet feeling like new.
When they came back down from the peak, my husband told me more than once that the last part of the trail had been much easier to climb, and that I could have made it if we had been allowed to take the dog along.
At the time, I didn’t believe him.
Now I know he was right.