American travel writer and author Bill Bryson wrote a book in 1998 that I found absolutely captivating. It recounted his personal journey to attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world – a path that stretches 2,190 miles from the state of Georgia in the southern U.S., to the northeastern state of Maine, which counts Canada as one of its next door neighbors. Year-after-year, thousands of hikers attempt to achieve a personal milestone by traveling those 2,190 miles on foot. If completed, it’s a journey that can typically can take 5-to-7 months to finish. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, only about one in every four hikers actually succeeds.
…completing the journey requires something more…
Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is a humongous and grueling undertaking for the physical and logistical demands alone. Actually completing the journey requires something more: mental toughness and determination. Looking at it this way: there are more than 11.5 billion feet in 2,190 miles, and more than 5.2 thousand feet in just that very first mile after the starting line – and, all of it begins with that very first step.
Back on April 2, 2012, I arrived home in a wheelchair after a weekend that resulted in: two broken limbs; the expectation of two big surgeries with needed titanium implants, screws and pins; and, the harsh reality of a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation. The enormity of it all had finally hit me that day, because the mammoth challenge that laid before me seemed too overwhelming to comprehend. So, I decided then and there that the only way forward was to take it one step at a time, and I would celebrate every victory – no matter how small. Those small victories would add up, I told myself, and every single step was indeed another step forward. I will freely admit, though, that there there were many difficult days when my mind took a lot more convincing than others.
Some background: Prior to the start of my orthopedic adventure, I was hiking the wooded trails at a state park that is only 10 minutes from where I live – every weekend. One trail that was my favorite: a beautiful 5.5-mile hike that offered views of a lake, which kisses the park’s beautiful shores. Winter was the absolute best time to go, because it felt like you had the trail all to yourself. Often I went Saturday and Sunday, adding portions of other trails to my journey, resulting in 12 or more miles of hiking on many weekends. I was there so often, I had even achieved a social media milestone, becoming the “mayor” of the trail on Foursquare (LOL!). On Saturday, March 31, 2012, the day of my mud run mishap, those weekly visits to what was a personal bit of heaven on earth – came to screeching halt. And the one recurring thought I had throughout the days that followed was whether I would ever walk that trail – and sit on one of my favorite benches – again.
…a “yes, I can” attitude…
That bench – actually hiking into the woods and sitting on that bench – became a recurring thought, a familiar image in my head, and a “yes, I can” attitude that quickly become a motivating goal. But even I knew that goal would be a long time in coming and a lot of work in between.
Two weeks ago, on Sunday, January 4, 2016, I made my first return to that trail since March 25, 2012…. and I not only sat on that bench, I completed that 5.5-mile hike, plus a little extra – just because I could! It was a personal effort that felt so empowering, I went on January 11 to do it again. This was a New Year’s resolution for 2016 and I’ve already done it TWICE and there will be plenty more to follow. (Something happened in November that gave me that “extra” push toward this accomplishment – more on that in my next post)
I share this story for a reason: In a world that too-often values instant gratification above everything else, it’s too easy to get discouraged by goals that require more work, more time, more patience, and – yes – more mental toughness and determination. It took nearly four years for me to get back to that trail and that bench. But that made my “Walk in the Woods” all the more sweeter.
Do you have a challenge or goal that has required extraordinary perseverance and effort? Please share it in the comments section. I’ve found my inspiration and strength through others – and I remain hopeful that, by sharing my own story, others will feel that same empowerment, too!