5 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned from Hiking 170 Miles All by Myself

I was born in Kansas, the sunflower state. My earliest childhood memories are of prairie dogs, wheat fields, and trying to play amongst the wind. Our family always rooted for the Jayhawks, and we watched The Wizard of Oz (a lot).

I loved growing up in the midwest and I always felt a strong connection to the west. It felt grand, expansive, and truthfully, a little more exciting than the breadbasket state. I longed to climb to the top of mountains, swim in the lakes, and walk amongst the wildflowers.

As a little girl, I devoured books about Colorado, California, and pretty much anywhere out west. In the third grade, I read a book about Lake Tahoe. Immediately, I was enamored by its uniqueness and depth. So as any third grader would do, I made it the topic of my next book report.

Standing in front of the class giving what I thought was the best book report ever, it wasn’t until after that I learned I had been pronouncing it wrong the entire time. I called it Ta-ho (kind of like tally-ho).

Long before I was able to visit in person, I’ve always felt a special connection to this lake, but I had no idea how much it would change me and teach me. Now, that I’ve gotten to experience it in so many different ways, from rock climbing to backcountry skiing to stewardship projects to now thru-hiking, I feel an even greater appreciation.

To me, this lake represents a whole range of life, beauty, and meaning, that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Spending 11-days and 10-nights, walking 170 miles around this big, blue lake really opened my eyes to this, as well as a lot of lessons. Today, I want to share these insights with you.

5 CHANGING LESSONS FROM THE TAHOE RIM TRAIL:

1.) Time is one of the most precious gifts we can receive. Long-distance hiking gives you a lot of time. Time to think. Time to feel. Time to listen. Time to look. All this time feels really exciting because you think, “Finally, the space to work through my problems and figure things out.” Instead, the time actually gives you the space to learn more about who you truly are. To come to terms with the best and worst parts of yourself. To find a deeper level of understanding and acceptance for the woman you are, problems and all. Through introspection and reflection, we find the answers.

2.) “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This is actually Ralph Waldo Emerson’s life lesson, but my 11-day backpacking trip really brought this lesson home for me. The beauty of backpacking is that it truly is about the process rather than the results. Pretty much every minute of backpacking is backpacking. It’s backpacking when you’re hiking, when you’re setting up your tent, when you’re looking at your map and planning your route, when you’re pooping in the woods, when you’re cooking up a freeze dried meal, all of it is backpacking. You don’t ever really get a break from the fact that you’re backpacking.

It’s a lot like life, every minute of life is well, life. We often forget this and get trapped by telling ourselves, “Once I ______ (insert goal: lose weight, get the job, meet my dream man), then I’ll be happy.” But the reality is that the journey of life is the big thing and if we don’t learn how to be present to every minute of it, we’ll surely be disappointed.

It’s life when you’re fighting with your partner, when you’re working, when you’re meeting your best friend for lunch, when you’re taking care of your kids, when you’re on vacation, when everything is falling apart, when everything is going wonderfully well, all of it is life. Every single minute of it, so you might as well make the most of it.

If I would have rushed through my thru-hike, just to get to the end destination, it would have been a very underwhelming experience. In the end, I arrived back where I began, a parking lot full of cars. The journey around the lake was much more memorable!

3.) Hiking alone strengthens relationships. Even though you’re solo, being alone in the woods shows you just how much people care about you and how supportive total strangers can be. From day hikers on the trail who offer you food, water, and high fives, to folks back home sending you endless amounts of love, support, and encouragement; you gain a deeper appreciation for human connection.

Hiking alone humbles you and provides perspective on just how grateful you are to have relationships in your life, the ones that pass by on the trail and the ones that are in your day-to-day life. I returned home feeling more present to and grateful for all the amazing people in my life, ready to give back to everyone what they have given to me.

4.) Getting comfortable with discomfort is key to long-term happiness.  If you’ve ever been backpacking, you know it’s no walk in the park. You’re carrying everything you need on your back, you’re covered in dirt, you smell awful, there are bugs annoying the crap out of you, your shoulders ache, and you’re often setting up your home in the wind.

Here’s the thing, when you accept that backpacking it what it is, the uncomfortable fades away and the magic reveals itself. You’re more appreciative and receptive to the amazing parts like drinking water from a crystal clear stream, seeing a sunset so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes or watching the twinkling stars make their appearance each night. You can’t get to this appreciation for how amazing it is unless you’re willing to be with the uncomfortable parts and accept what’s hard.

Like backpacking, life can be really uncomfortable at times. When we fight this discomfort and expect things to feel good all the time, dissatisfaction creeps in and we get really frustrated. Happiness feels impossible and we miss all the little wonderful moments. When you accept that life is sometimes hard, and often uncomfortable, you develop a resilience to face setbacks and wake up to all the little amazing moments.

5.) There’s always room to simplify more. I value simplicity, and living in modern day society always seems to complicate things. However, on my thru-hiking adventure, I was struck yet again by how little I need to be happy and how my life can be simplified even more. In the wilderness, all I need is food, water, shelter, and a map. That’s it, pretty simple!

Sure, I missed my husband and a hot shower is always nice, but only needing the basics of what will keep me alive for a period of time put things into perspective in a hurry. I don’t need much stuff, I don’t need to check off to-do’s each day, and I most certainly don’t need to be replying to emails or on Facebook all the time.

Now home, back in my day-to-day life, I’ve got my simplify glasses on. I’m asking myself questions like, “How can I work smarter, not harder?” “What can I take off of my to-do list?” “Where do I need to start saying no in my life?” “What clutter do I need to remove so that I’m only surrounded by things I value?” In life we can always simplify more so that we’re spending our time with the people we love, doing what matters most to us.

This Kansas girl has been completely changed by her adventure around the big, blue lake she read about years ago! I’m so grateful for these lessons and this adventure.

Warm hugs and big love,

Megan