Monday, August 8, 2016

20 Life Lessons to Learn from Hikers

You only have one life to live, but some people spend their entire lives rushing toward nameless destinations. Whether you seek fame and fortune, yearn for retirement, strive to live the good life or work toward some other goal, it's easy to find yourself running in high gear as though life is a race with medals awarded to the fastest. Slow down and learn these life lessons from hikers who journey thousands of miles on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and other long-distance trails.

Life is a Journey, Not a Destination 
Before taking off on a hike of days, weeks or months, long-distance hikers prepare for possible problems. But they also know that life is a journey, not a destination. It's easy to lose sight of the journey in our day-to-day lives. Enjoy the sights, sounds and gifts of each day.

Be Prepared
The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts use "Be Prepared" as their motto. For long-distance hikers, being prepared is essential to survival. Plan ahead and have enough of what you need. But don't get bogged down with excess baggage, whether your hike is on the trail or through life.

Hike Your Own Hike 
Ask any long-distance hiker for one piece of advice and you'll hear "HYOH" -- a hiker acronym for 'hike your own hike.' Hikers know this means to hike at your own pace, not paying attention to the speed of the other hikers.

It Builds Character 
When you face and overcome challenges on the trail or in life, you become a stronger person. Armed with new skills and knowledge, you are better able to face the next challenge.

The First Step is the Hardest 
You can think, plan and map out a long hike, but you'll never get anywhere until you take the first step. In life, it's easy to spend too much time thinking and worrying instead of just taking a step forward.

Put one Foot in Front of the Other 
There will be times on the trail or in life when you just don't feel like you can go any further. Those are the times to just put one foot in front of the other and continue.

Sometimes You Need to Take Baby Steps 
When you're on rocky ground on the trails or in life, you may have to slow down your pace for a while. Baby steps are still steps forward.

It May be Easier With a Partner, But Sometimes You Need to Do it Alone 
It's important to remember that the only person who will be with you for your entire life is you. Some journeys are meant to be solos.

The Downhills Aren't Always Easy and the Uphills Aren't Always Hard 
Both going up and coming down have unique challenges. On the trails, downhills can be much more treacherous, just as in life.

Accept Help When Offered
If there's a hand rail along a trail, you probably need to hold onto it. If someone holds out their hand to you in the journey of life, the same applies.

Take Advice From Those Who Have Walked Your Walk 
Along the trails, you will run into people who are returning from where you're heading. Listen to their words of advice and take heed. The same is true in life. Whether you're dealing with challenges in your personal or professional life, listen and apply the advice you're given.

Rest When Needed but Don't Quit 
Some long distance hikers take 'zero days' -- days when they hike zero miles -- as a way to recover from injury, regain perspective, restock supplies in the nearest town or avoid bad weather on the trail. One rule many long-distance hikers follow is, "Never quit on a zero day." Often when you take a break from a challenge or problem, you come back refreshed and renewed for the journey.

The Journey Makes You Stronger 
This life law is also known as, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." If you are told this as you face difficulty, it may hurt your feelings or make you mad. When you look back years later, you will see the strength you've gained from the adversities you've faced.

You Never Know What's Around the Next Corner 
As you round a turn, you suddenly catch a glimpse of the mountains or the sun shining so bright it hurts your eyes. Expect surprises. You won't be disappointed - on the trails or in life.

If You Take a Wrong Path, Retrace Your Steps and Start Again 
On the Appalachian Trail, double white blazes signify an upcoming turn or change in direction. Life doesn't offer that option. Starting over is one of the most challenging things in life. Sometimes you take a wrong turn and keep going in the wrong direction despite that little voice warning you to turn around. It may take a little while to start again now, but it will take longer if you travel farther in the wrong direction.

Learn From Your Mistakes 
There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. Forget to properly store your food when backcountry hiking and you will have unexpected company in your tent. Some lessons are more costly than others, but the most costly are those you repeat. 

The Taste of Success is Sweet 
Although it's all about the journey, the destination is also sweet. Thru-hikers on the AT pose for a photo at the end of the journey. Many day and section hikers ask a friend or fellow hiker to take their photo on the summit of a mountain they've just climbed. Success tastes sweet in life too. When all of the pieces come together just right, it feels so good.

Take Time to Savor Your Victory 
It's rare that a distance hiker arrives at the end of the trail, turns around and leaves. Whatever your success in life, pat yourself on the back and savor the moment.

It Can Be Lonely at the Top 
Appalachian Trail hikers support one another and are happy to welcome new members into the 2000 Miler Club. It's not always like that in life. Sometimes people you think are friends aren't supportive when you win. When that happens, it may be time for new friends.

Enjoy the Views 
You only pass through life once. Stop to enjoy the views and take photos. Whether you're shooting a sunrise over the mountains with your camera or imprinting an image into your memory, look around instead of down. There's a lot of beauty to be found on the trails and in life. 

Life is a lot like long-distance hiking. The journey may seem long at times, but rewards abound around every turn. As you travel through life, these life lessons from hikers will help you enjoy the the journey and the views along the trail we call life.

All of these photographs were shot while hiking on various trails in Virginia, including along my beloved Appalachian Trail. Each year, from early spring through late fall, thousands of hikers attempt to thru-hike the nearly 2,190 mile length of the Appalachian Trail. Most of the hikers I've met are very friendly and happy to pose for a photo or two as they share stories about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, the adventure of a lifetime. 


  1. WOW! Love it and am very jealous! Keep posting, please!

    1. Thanks, Janice! Blogging is slow going as I heal from a broken collarbone sustained earlier this month. Two-finger typing is so slow!