It was Thanksgiving 2015. Fall was in all its glory, and a bunch of my fellow MBA students and I decided to celebrate it by hiking up the majestic smoky mountains. We joked about reaching the highest peak in the mountains. Somehow, suddenly, it stopped being a joke. Amidst all the fun and kidding, reaching the peak became the goal of the trip. So, we set out; a bunch of inexperienced, amateur hikers attempting to hike a 12-mile, highly strenuous trail, all for fun.
6 miles up and it “got real.” Who said this would be manageable? And, who said this would be fun? We coursed through narrow gorges, pushed ourselves up through the very steep rock trails, hung on to ropes, slipped on frozen rivers, gasped for breath, and cried for repose. The pain was real. It took each of us every bit of resolve to complete the hike. It also took each of us a huge amount of respect for the group’s goal. After 4 hours, we finally got there, and it was worth every bit of pain we endured on the way up. The cliff at the top pierced through the clouds that engulfed us. The steady brush of the cool wind, the scent of fresh mountain air, the vast and measureless mountains at every turn, and the peace that dawns on you; it definitely was worth it.
The hike down was very different. It felt as though we had all changed a little. There was no complaining or whining; just appreciation of the beauty around. The experience was so powerful that it changed how I saw everyday life. Here are a few examples of how:
- We planned and implemented the plan: We planned the hike days in advance. We packed for it, dressed for it, and mentally prepped for it. When we got to the start, we were all ready to face what was ahead of us. Our plan was also agile and adaptable when needed. If we lost a trail, we were ready to pick a new one. Small mistakes happened, but that did not deter us from reaching our goal.
- We were a team: We took turns at being trail leader and we motivated each other to keep moving. There were times when one person fell or another just didn’t want to finish the hike. But we pushed through it all as a team by helping and cheering each other on.
- We became closer friends: These moments of falling are when you see the people around you in a closer light. You see how they handle falls and you see how they pick themselves up. You are there to help when needed, and that assurance of someone being there for you is what you need to establish a long-lasting relationship with that person. This hike gave me closer ties with my friends and threw new light on the incredible strength of these people.
- We pushed through difficulties: There were moments when I just did not want to move. I felt numb in my legs and gasped for air. At those times, I looked up at the peak. I told myself that I had no choice but to make it. I looked at my friends and their grit while they walked; I did not want to let them down. So, I kept moving. I surprised myself at what I was capable of doing and I learned what keeps me going.
- We were rewarded for our hard work: As we hiked on, the mountains only grew more and more breathtaking. When we got to the top, the beauty around us left us speechless. Yes, we focused on reaching the peak, but we were laughing and enjoying the beauty around us at every step. Isn’t that what life is about? The small joys and beauty of everyday life? In the end, that was what we recorded in our travel diaries. The beauty of the mountains, the times we fell and the laughs we had, and the strength each of us discovered to follow ourselves.