I revel the opportunity to get out and explore when hiking. I like the achievement of summiting a new peak, but I grapple with enjoying the (literal) step-by-step undertaking. That is, until I changed how I thought of the journey.
On Monday, I traversed 16 miles of the beautiful Smoky Mountains. I hiked Mount Cammerer, a 4,928 foot peak with 360-degree views of the eastern Smokies, Cocke County, and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It was the third consecutive day of hiking, and upon completion I had thoughts to the effect of: I’m ready for a nap; That was an incredible experience; How do thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail do it?*
I followed the lesser traveled Mt. Cammerer loop: Chestnut Branch Trail + Appalachian Trail + Low Gap Trail + Big Creek Trail. The icing on the cake being the panoramic views at the peak.
Atop the mountain sits a restored fire tower, a two story lookout that was used to monitor the area for forest fires. It is one of four towers that remain in The Great Smoky Mountains, and the only one made of stone.
The lookout was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937, and was constructed using rock quarried nearby and timber from the area. All the materials had to be hauled up to the summit. That’s a lot of heavy.
At the top, I sat for a while observing the surroundings, perched on the edge of a rocky outcropping overlooking the Pigeon River Gorge. I wanted to recuperate strength for the remaining 10 miles and patched minor bodily and psychological bruises (my sides were chafed from my backpack and I was mentally tired).
After a hearty lunch, I descended the peak and fell quickly into my thoughts. I began reflecting a bit about the journey of hiking as a parallel for life.
I didn’t have too far to look. As I had set out for the day’s hike, I was acutely focused on getting to the top and was quick to disregard much of the ascent. I shot out like a cannon through the Chestnut Branch Trail, a serene, but steep perambulation through dense hardwood forest. I realized I missed much of the first six miles because I wanted to reach the peak (and views).
While I thoroughly enjoyed the top, I zipped through the trail. I couldn't help but think: How often does this happen in life?
A destination provides an impetus and spurs action, but the goal or aspiration we are working towards is but a stepping stone in the long run. We spend so much more energy working towards the goal itself, shouldn’t we enjoy more of the minutiae and daily grind?
The journey is really what we think about it
As life would have it, I was listening to NPR this weekend and the discussion with Dr. Elleng Langer centered around mindfulness. To be mindful is to actively notice things (whether thoughts or feelings or the world around us), and she spoke about how “our experiences are formed by the words and ideas we attach to them.” She elaborated that labeling something “play" rather than "work" can mean the difference between delight and drudgery.
So when you are feeling the strain of daily monotony or finding yourself in need of a little motivation towards your goal, simply changing your thoughts and ideas around what you are doing can change the whole experience. In fact, the words, ideas, and feelings you associate with the activity at hand make the experience.
I took this to heart and began to actively notice my surroundings on the descent; the blending of greens and yellows in the canopy of intertwined branches, the shining light rays through the trees, the burbling water flowing down the creek... and thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of the trip.
Now it’s your turn!
What are some of your favorite journeys? What made them so special? What do you remember most distinctly about them?
At CogniTea, we are dedicated to supporting our community members with whatever they set out to do. Share with us your favorite journeys in the comments below or on Facebook!
*Thru-hikers are the enviable travellers who backpack along the entirety of the trail