I enjoy taking the road less traveled, yet I have retreated more times than I can count out of fear, uncertainty, or just because moving forward seemed too difficult. I want adventure, rich experiences, and good memories but am not always willing to pay the price for them.
I figure I am not alone in wanting the good without the “bad.” Many people say they want to live an interesting, full life, yet when faced with difficulty they quickly retreat back to what is comfortable. I have been there more times than I can count.
This 9-month adventure we are on is about moving forward courageously for our whole family. It has not been without its difficult and trying times, but with each of those comes the memories and experiences we will never forget.
The concept of taking the good with the bad became crystal clear when our family said yes to hiking the third highest mountain in Central Java, Indonesia. Mt. Lawu is 10, 712 feet to the summit, and we were hiking it during the rainy season.
We were told that it was an intermediate hike with a gradual incline. That was true some of the time. A majority of the time, however, it was an intense hike; both up AND down the mountain. Since we were in the rainy season and out in the open, we weren’t able to avoid the downpours. The torrents made it impossible for us to hear each other, so we had plenty of time to reflect and even more time to question our sanity.
When I set out to hike Mt. Lawu, I knew it would be hard. I knew my muscles would be tired. I knew it would be a challenge, but also an adventure. What I didn’t know was that I would experience a throbbing headache from the altitude. I would be so cold and wet my teeth would chatter and my fingertips would go numb. Every muscle in my body would be pushed to the brink of exhaustion and that it would take every ounce of positive thinking and self-talk I could muster to finish the hike.
This was personally one of the hardest things I can remember ever doing. Yet during those times of self-reflection, I couldn’t help but compare this challenge to the other challenges I have faced in my life. I know the “climbing a mountain” analogy has been used many times. I have read it, agreed with it, understood the analogy, but for me, this hike truly drove the analogy home.
One of my goals in life is to learn from every experience, good or bad. The hike was no different, so as I climbed I thought about what I needed to learn and how this experience will change my actions in the future because I believe that every experience does change us. What did I take away from this experience? That those things in life we begin – relationships, adventures, businesses, ventures, new job, you name it – go through stages. With those stages come varying emotions. The stages are really pretty consistent regardless of what you are starting.
Here are the stages we went through as we hiked Mt. Lawu. For me, they carried incredible similarities to other things in my life, that is, if I kept going and didn’t stop.
Stages of an experience (through the eyes of an inexperienced mountain climber):
Honeymoon stage: Beginning something is the easy part. Things are new; you are refreshed, ready for the adventure. You are still exploring and getting to know your surroundings. There might be some fear involved, but you move forward anyway. In the case of the hike, the moment we said yes was the start of our honeymoon period. We didn’t hear anything truly negative about the hike. Our attitude was optimistic. We had full confidence that we could tackle the mountain.
Realization stage: This is when you start to come to your senses. Things don’t seem as easy. You must dig in and work. This stage requires you to focus on the goal. Quitting is easy because you are still close to the beginning. It would be easy to turn back and admit you made a mistake. This stage hit us about 15 minutes after setting out from the base camp. We still had over 7 hours of hiking to do. The rain turned the path into a river. Throughout the next several hours we navigated what seemed like a slippery, clay-like stair-climber set at a high incline. Not one of us talked of going back, but we all wondered privately if we should.
Sweet-spot stage:This is when you have hit your stride and your rhythm. You feel good. You have adjusted to the load you are carrying. You have gotten your bearings and everything seems to be working as it should. During the hike, we hit this stage after hiking for about 6 hours. The rain had stopped, so we were able to take our ponchos off and we were above the cloud level. Our moods brightened and we knew we could finish the hike.
Final Push stage: This stage can feel similar to the Realization stage only harder on many fronts. The final push usually requires just that – pushing on toward the goal. It is critical to keep the end goal in clear focus. To give up now would be crazy. The very steepest part of the climb was the final push to the summit. We didn’t need climbing gear, but we were scrambling over huge boulders and lava flow. We continually reminded each other of how beautiful the sunrise and sunset would be (although we had no way of knowing if that would actually be the case).
Summit stage: You are there. You have reached the goal or maybe part of the goal. Either way, it is time to celebrate the victory. Once we reached the summit, we celebrated with hot chocolate, high-fives and congratulations all around. This was an unbelievable moment that reminds me to celebrate the successes of any adventure, no matter how small or big. It is an important part of the experience.
Life is for living, living through the good and what seems like the bad times. All of it teaches us something and adds to our life.
If someone had put a mic in front of me at the top of the mountain and asked me what I learned, I would have said I learned not to retreat when things get hard, to push through because each stage is part of reaching your dream. Hanging out in the easy part doesn’t get you to that gorgeous sunset you’re after.
Climbing Mt. Lawu required mental and physical toughness. Our family survived it, and we all came out stronger and with life lessons that will go with us forever. We have memories and rich stories to tell about this adventure.