Life Lessons from a Hiking Trip

Heading to the Maryland Heights trailhead | Photo by Osasumwen Arigbe

On a beautiful Saturday morning this summer, my friends and I went on a hiking trip in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was an early trip, and the weather was just perfect for hiking. Before this trip, I had looked for opportunities to visit Harpers Ferry, and so I didn’t waste any time in accepting the invitation to go hiking there.

When we arrived at Harpers Ferry, we took the Maryland Heights trail, which is a steep and rocky roundtrip trail of about 6 miles. The Maryland Heights trail leads to the highest point overlooking the town, Harpers Ferry. On our trail, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the trees, birds, the Potomac & Shenandoah rivers, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. We then took a rocky descent on the Overlook Cliff trail, which led to the scenic viewpoint of the town. In total, we hiked for about four hours on this trip.

The beautiful trees | Photo by Osasumwen Arigbe

Unlike other hiking and rock climbing trips I have been on, I didn’t realize how difficult this was going to be for me. All I wanted to do was experience the beauty of this little town. Suddenly, reality hit me.

A few miles into the trail, I noticed that two of us were far behind. We found it difficult to hike the Maryland Heights trail. At this point, I thought of giving up and going back to wait for the others.

I took a few minutes to rest and drink water. When I was resting, it occurred to me that if I focused on reaching the end of the trail, I could glean some valuable life lessons from this adventure. I didn’t want to give up that easily. While this was a physically painful experience for me, I made up my mind to finish the hike. I also decided to reflect on my experience as I walked on the trail.

My reflections highlighted the following life lessons:

  • Self-determination is the key to success: From the pictures I had seen online, I knew that there was a beautiful view of Harpers Ferry from the overlook cliff. However, I wanted to see this for myself! In life, we typically aspire to attain success in our endeavors. What we don’t often realize is that success does not happen without some challenges. Just like this trail, the path to the top is steep and rocky. On your journey to the top, there may be moments when you feel like giving up. In such moments, you will need the willpower to keep moving. I’ve realized that it is quite easy to give up, but this is where self-determination comes in to play. You will eventually realize that as you overcome challenges of increasing difficulty, your self-confidence will also increase. Keep striving for your goals and working hard to achieve them!
  • You need mentors to direct your journey: I attribute my ability to reach the overlook cliff to my friend, who was also the organizer of the trip. He had been on this trail several times and knew the right path. Even though we were behind, he patiently walked with us and directed us on the pathway to the top of the trail. In life, we need mentors to direct us on the paths we desire to take. Who are those people in your profession that have successfully followed your desired pathway? You need such people to direct you. A good mentor is someone who has some years of experience ahead of you, can provide encouragement and improve your self-confidence, and can assist you in overcoming challenges.
A caterpillar I found while resting! 
  • Observe and appreciate the little things: On a typical hiking trip, especially when you are in a group, or as tired as I was, it is easy to lose sight of your surroundings. It could be the sounds of the chirping birds, the different shapes and sizes of leaves, or the insects crawling up a tree. Whatever it is, it is helpful to observe and appreciate your surroundings. While it is necessary to stay focused in life, you will miss out on many things if you don’t pay attention to events around you. This way, you can add value to different situations because you’ll be quite knowledgeable about things outside of your field of expertise or areas of interest.
  • Don’t be distracted by others’ successes: Most members of the group had gone far ahead, and honestly, I felt terrible that I couldn’t move at the same pace. We started together so why couldn’t I move like them? What I failed to realize was that they had been through more difficult hiking trips in the past, and I wasn’t part of those trips. I didn’t know the skills and levels of experience they brought to this particular trip. We often compare ourselves to other people. Sometimes, we even veer off our original goals because we’re trying to compete with our peers, forgetting that each of us has unique skills and experiences. When we’re distracted by others’ successes, we fail to develop our talents. If you must compare yourself to others, then use their accomplishments for self-motivation rather than self-criticism.
  • Go easy on yourself: Seeing how much I struggled with climbing the steep and rocky trail, I started to blame myself for feeling so exhausted. I said these to myself: “If I had worn a light-colored shirt, I wouldn’t be so hot and tired.” “If I had known, I would have stretched before I started.” I beat myself up for what I was experiencing. Don’t we all have those moments when it seems like if we had done something differently, our present outcomes would be different? I know I have! However, I’ve found this attitude to be counterproductive. I’ll recommend practicing self-compassion. You can change your focus from what you could have done differently to what you can do to move forward. While on the Maryland Heights trail, I chose to take each step at a time. I wasn’t in a race, and so there wasn’t a prize to be won. I also focused on what I needed to complete the journey— take breaks, eat snacks, and drink lots of water. Similarly, find out what you need to reach your goals and be kind to yourself while at it.

After the difficulty I experienced hiking, I felt a sense of accomplishment and gratification when I reached the overlook cliff. Below is a beautiful view of Harpers Ferry, the Potomac River, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The view of Harpers Ferry | Photo by Osasumwen Arigbe

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