The lessons we learn as we travel through life are abundant, and the topics are broad. We learn through our experiences, and we often look back and say, ‘I learned something that day.’ My camping and hiking experiences have shaped my life. The most important lessons I’ve learned are patience, teamwork, and perseverance.
I have been in camping situations where it seemed like EVERYTHING was going wrong. Forgotten gear, unpredictable weather, inconsiderate camping neighbors, encounters with wildlife, and experiencing the unexpected taught me that getting stressed and angry about things I have no control over is not helpful to anyone.
While camping on the open prairie of Iowa, one windy weekend, many years ago, I learned that it is imperative to ensure that all lightweight gear is secure if I don’t want my stuff to end up in the campfire. Yup, I learned that having a nylon coat draped over the back of a nylon ‘chair in a bag’ is acceptable on a windy day, as long as someone is sitting in the chair. However, the moment I got up, a massive gust of wind swept in, and before I could grab it, the wind chucked said chair and jacket right into the fire, where they both melted instantly. R.I.P, favorite chair and jacket. You might think that the lesson here is about camping only in ideal weather or carefully securing your gear. Those aren’t bad takeaways but drawing on my first lesson about not stressing about things beyond my control, the complimentary lesson is to control the things you can. In this situation, placing a rock or something else heavy on the chair when I got up or even laying the chair down would have helped to avoid disaster. Patience with myself and the weather lend to a more pleasant experience when things go wrong.
Working with others is a highly transferable skill, meaning that it’s something you can take with you and use anywhere in life. Camping in a group is one of the best ways to learn to be a team player. Setting up camp with others, especially setting up a tent, can be a valuable experience in teamwork. This is especially true if camping with family members. Struggling to set up a tent can be an occasion of great hilarity and breathtaking laughter, or it can cause tension and blood pressure to rise. The former can be a wonderful experience of fun and connection. But if your experience of corporate tent-pitching is the latter, taking a minute to breathe and remembering that the journey is the destination may be helpful. Or maybe just reread the set-up instructions, work together and accomplish the goal.
A life lesson that carries great value, on the trail, is perseverance. Gaining an understanding of what your mind and body can handle in a given situation is a gift. Knowing how far you can push your mental and physical capabilities can help build self-confidence and esteem.
My daughter, who was nine years old at the time of this story, and her friend, who was 10, are the purest examples of perseverance. There is a small mountain town that my family lives in during the summer. Just outside of town, there is a long and steep trail that leads to the top of a mountain that gives glorious views of the San Juans and of the quaint little town that sits below. About three years ago, a small group of folks was going to take on this hike, and the two young kids were all about joining them. This hike is no joke, 7 miles round trip with 3000 feet of elevation gain, and the trailhead sits about 7700 feet above sea level. The kiddos were going to do it, and the adults would help them.
Everyone was in high spirits, leaving at sunrise and heading to the trail. What more could one ask for than a day on the trail with good people, energetic kids, and great weather. Let’s just cut to the chase; the hike went well… well, until tiredness and soreness set in. Getting to the top of the mountain was fine, albeit draining. Kiddos were wiped, and the adults were in good spirits. The group had success in getting to the top; now, it was time to get back down. 3.5 miles may not seem very far, but that distance can seem like an eternity on challenging, rugged terrain with tired and sore legs. The kids displayed perseverance to the max. They needed to put one foot in front of the other, breaking the hike down into groups of 25 steps at a time and then resting. The kids persevered. When spotting a bear cub and knowing mama wasn’t far away, they kept moving, using focus and perseverance to work through the fear and to continue without resting during that section. And finally, starting to hear thunder in the distance and knowing they needed to get off the mountain, they persevered. Being determined to keep on moving. Finally, after a few more hours than expected on the trail, they made it. They never gave up, and they never gave in. Oh, and the kiddos got to eat all the ice cream their hearts desired that night.
All that was necessary was taking one step at a time. When you find yourself in a moment where you need to persevere, all you have to do is take one moment at a time.
Arguably, the best life lesson EVER, is learning to celebrate the victories. When a goal is accomplished, celebrate it, no matter how large or small. Be proud of what you achieved, how you grew as a person, and the knowledge you gained.