A little over 2 years ago, I went on a month-long personal retreat in the little mountain town of Pine, Arizona. During that time, I had a hiking experience that I find myself thinking back on lately. As is so frequently the case, nature is a remarkable teacher that offers wise counsel and encouragement to help us get through the challenges we encounter.
January 30, 2012 - Pine, AZ
Yesterday I hiked the Oak Springs Trail in Tonto Natural Forest. The section of the trail I was planning to hike covers about 2 miles as it follows a dry stream bed through the forest. Since I had plans in the afternoon, I started hiking around 9am, allowing me plenty of time to hike the 4-mile return trip and stop to "smell the roses" along the way. What I didn't count on was that the trail was very difficult to follow because it was covered by the fallen leaves of autumn, snow cover that had not yet melted and downed trees and obstacles at every turn. So, it didn't take me very long to completely lose the trail.
I ended up hiking directly in and down the dry stream bed - trying to forge my own path where water had at some point flowed. In some areas it was clear that a waterfall once fell. At first, I felt a twinge of panic. It was clear that I was not on any kind of established path - climbing over and down boulders and rocks was becoming quite risky and I had no idea if following the stream bed would actually take me where I was supposed to end up! But as I hiked, a curious calm settled over me and I began to think about the lessons my unexpected "detour" was teaching me.
Following the dry stream bed, I thought about the qualities of running water. Even when it encounters an obstacle, flowing water always goes on its intended way. If it meets a rock, even if it parts, it goes around and around again and keeps flowing. If there is no path, it makes one.
Focus on the bigger picture
When you are faced with unexpected obstacles that block your path and you feel lost and don't know if or where you should continue, take a moment to look all around you, instead of only right in front of you. When you look further down the path, when you look out to both sides, you will often notice the path become clear again and realize that you simply have to go around or over an obstacle in order to get right back on track.
Trust your instinct
When in doubt, follow your instincts! Before panic had a chance to settle in and take over, I was able to remind and calm myself with the knowledge that I had the resources and where-with-all to get safely out of the situation. I relied on my sense of direction and the experience I had from previous trails to guide me back to a path which I could follow and became quite adept at anticipating where the trail was heading even as I faced many more unclear areas ahead.
Because of my misstep, I ended up taking a different trail route than what I had planned. Instead of the 4 miles I was counting on, the round trip was now going to be closer to 10 miles. I had to go with the flow and be willing to adapt! Such a huge lesson in that for me - Don't get so twisted out of shape when things don't go as planned, that you miss the good things that may, and most likely will, be revealed by going a different way.
Stop and rest along the way
When you get tired and think you can't go on, stop and rest! Don't think of the long road that lies ahead before you reach your final destination; think only of the portion of the road you can manage until your next "rest stop".
Getting lost taught me a valuable lesson: that I am stronger and capable of so much more than I may think!