I hiked the Ice Age National Scenic Trail last year. All 684 miles of trail. The inspiration to do this came from a movie and book called “Wild”. This is a true story about a woman who hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from one end to the other, and in doing so battled a number of demons in her life. My plan was simpler and shorter – set and accomplish a hefty goal in hiking a long distance trail.
I day hiked segments of trails rather than backpacking and going straight through as she had. I hiked on weekends and on vacations in May, June, September and October. Half the time I was on the trail by myself, other times I hiked with friends or people I had met online who were doing the same hike. They were good company and helpful in getting back to where I started the day’s hike. One thing about hiking a linear trail, you have to figure out how to get back to where you started.
I ask most of my clients what they do for self-care – what they do to relax and de-stress. Some don’t have a response – they are not thinking along these lines. So I suggest hobbies, creative pursuits or exercise – even if it is simply going for a walk. I took the walking to the extreme last year!
I learned a few things while on the trail:
Sometimes we think too much about our emotions and create anxiety for ourselves. Other times we do not think enough about our emotions, ignoring the reasons we think and act the way we do. At times, we get it right and are in good touch, while not overdoing it. Think Goldilocks and the Three Bears – the porridge being just right. Hiking the Ice Age Trail (IAT) helped me reset this balance, I can think too much. While on the trail, I often found myself not thinking about anything at all. There was planning, making sure I stayed on the trail, watching where to step next when conditions were not good; but most often it was just putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the scenery.
I have never seen myself as a person driven to reach accomplishments. I never started a business or written the Great American Novel. I often questioned my lack of drive and looked at “procrastination” as being the answer. Yet while hiking and talking to others, I began to ask, “Is it instead, the lens or perspective that I am using?” While it would be nice to accomplish big things that others could see, maybe other objectives in life are more important to me! Spending the time needed to find emotional balance (see above); taking the time for myself so that I could be happy in who I am; making sure I spend the time to nurture the relationships I enjoy.
While I enjoyed my adventure on the IAT last year, I learned that becoming singularly focused on a big goal leaves other interests at the wayside. I was not comfortable with this.
There are 408 more miles of road routes connecting the trailheads that I have not yet hiked. Because of bad knees that do not do well on asphalt, I had not planned to hike these. I have willingly fallen prey to peer pressure, however. To “Officially” hike the IAT, these “connecting routes” must be hiked. Less than 200 people have done both. I am excited to go for it, but with my knees and what I learned on the trail last year, my pace will be more casual, I will no t need to get it done in a year – and if I do not complete it, I know there are already a number of other accomplishments in my backpack.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.