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  • Deb

Poles and Prickly Pears


I’d never used trekking poles before. They steadied me and helped immensely as I navigated up and down the steep terrain. Headed for a total elevated hike of 2000’ and five and a half miles to our campground with 40 pounds in our backpacks, I had made to the top of the first crest. That first, very steep section was slow going for me. I had to keep pushing myself; winded like crazy, never having backpacked or carried this much weight before. It was extremely challenging for me, but not once was I disappointed that I had come, nor did I question why I had signed myself up for this backpacking trip at age 55. I was excited and terrified at the same time. Fearful that it may be too challenging for me, and embarrassed that I would be in the back, but knowing it would all be part of me getting over myself (part of my self-development plan). Both of the outdoor leadership coaches hung back with me at various times to encourage me, and I’m sure, to keep an eye on me. My coach knew I was embarrassed that I was slowing the group, but he just said, “Your new mantra is: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. And it was. Because, of course, I did finally make it to the end, and I thought that mantra to myself, over and over again, as I zigzagged back and forth up that crazy-steep hill, one foot in front of the other, with the comforting click, click, click of my trekking poles.


Putting myself in situations that are scary because they are new, challenging, or with a group of people I don’t know, is a regular practice of mine. I really did have a lot of fear heading into that weekend hike because I truly wasn’t sure if I could do it, but what it did for me on the other side of accomplishment, is the reason I keep coming back to these types of planned experiences.


As our group of 10 crested the first hill of the island, we could see the ocean for hundreds of miles all around. We were the only ones on the ridge aside from a few other hikers doing the same trek. There were no cars, so just the sounds of the birds, waves, and wind, along with our voices, as we walked the long, narrow trail to our destination. I can’t describe the feeling I had walking in a place that the majority of people would never attempt to go, and would never experience, and the great beauty that enveloped me with a sense of peace and security in being a person that was there.


When you hike like this, there is much time for contemplation and drawing parallels of the difficult things we have to traverse in life. I was reminded that no matter how hard it was, I just needed to keep moving, and I would eventually arrive. I thought about my tendency to want to give up when things seem hard, or if there is concern for inconvenience or pain.


As I walked with a couple of the guys, we kept passing prickly pears on the cacti and I asked if they had ever had them. Turns out they were ripe, and there’s a trick that you can slightly roast them over the campfire to remove the hair-like thorns. So, they decided to bag some for our campfire that night. One of the guys got poked by the thorns, and carrying them to the campsite for the rest of the way without getting them near his backpack, or near his belongings was no easy feat either. He was carrying them for the whole group, and I noticed how quickly I wanted him to give up our cool foraging treat because it was a hassle for him. The point was, he wanted to do it, and I didn’t need to give up for him. I thought about other areas in my life where I have done this and how it’s time to put the brakes on that.


The ups and downs were steep, and as I mentioned, I had started out with about 40 pounds in my pack. Clearly, getting quite the workout, winded, and ankles hurting on the first ascent, I was about to be reminded that I was not in this alone. The group was waiting at the top, and when I arrived, my coach said, “I’m feeling strong. I’m gonna take some of Deb’s weight. Who else is feeling strong?” Immediately two other people offered, and I offloaded about 15 pounds. It’s humbling to let people help us, but it is so, so good for us to allow it. The rest was still very challenging for me, but a little less weight was wonderful, and I was quickly getting the picture of this group’s comradery and the lessons in teamwork and care that we need to remember are available for us in all areas of our lives. I simply don’t have to overcome everything by myself.


Descending to the campsite was stunning. The little bay was so serene and beautiful, and our site was right on the water. My body was really aching when we arrived, but I had such an amazing, peaceful sense of accomplishment that I had done this. It was so great to be with a group of people interested in digging into personal and professional development, interested in challenging themselves, and simply interested in humankind and caring for all around them; nature, animals and the people they meet.


I listened to the waves while I was lying in my tent that night, perfectly snuggled in my sleeping bag. I thought about how I was proud of myself that I didn’t give up, and how we all have to remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it will be with extra help from caring people, and sometimes getting poked by thorns along the trail, but always with a mantra, “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast” and we will arrive, together.

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