I can’t imagine a more perfect metaphor for how I feel about Covid-19 than how I feel about hiking. Let me explain…
I Used to Hate Hiking.
And I tried to like it for a long time. I grew up in Virginia, went to college in Virginia, and was located by some of the most beautiful hikes in the U.S. But every time I went hiking, I despised it more, until I eventually just stopped trying.
In my mind I would try to justify hours of gruesome uphill tourture with the glorious ten minutes of looking at a pretty view.
What was the point, I asked myself. I came to the conclusion that a pretty view wasn’t a significant reward for hours of pain.
A few years later, after college, I was living at home, attending grad school, when I decided to give hiking another try. My Mom and I had both just quit smoking, so we decided that we should celebrate by trying a new hobby. We drove to Great Falls Maryland to hike the Billy Goat Trail.
The name comes from the trail itself, a series of scrambling over rocks, scaling a wall of solid rock, and jumping from formation to formation, like a billy goat. I had so much fun jumping from rock to rock, navigating a clear path, and looking out over the water. The Billy Goat trail doesn’t have an overlook per se, but there are gorgeous views of the Potomac river wherever you look.
But all of this is background information leading up to the one hike that changed my view on hiking forever. And that was when my Mom and I hiked Old Rag Mountain.
Hiking Old Rag Mountain
My Mom and I had tackled a few easy hikes around the northern Virginia area, and we were ready to try something a bit more extreme. Old Rag mountain was supposedly a tough hike with a nice view as a reward.
My Mom and I started out and quickly realized that this would not be an easy hike. There were no points where the trail evened out and we got a reprieve, it was straight up hill. We stopped several times just to catch our breaths; and I started wandering again why I was doing this.
That inner monologue can be painful…
This is stupid, why did I even decide to do this? We should just turn around. This isn’t even going to be worth it… The thought in my head kept rolling and I felt myself getting angry for no apparent reason.
Then, I started to think about myself: I’m so fat I can’t even go twenty minutes without a break, I’m such a loser, I’m not good for anything… I was at the point where I didn’t think I could go on anymore when we came to an amazing overlook. My breath caught in my throat as I looked out over purple mountains and a light blue sky and millions of evergreen trees.
You know that feeling when you wish you could drink something up with your eyes? That, no matter how hard or long you looked at something that it would never be enough? When you see something so beautiful you wonder whether it is really real or not? That’s how I felt.
But you know what made it even more beautiful? The struggle. I had made it to this beautiful place. My body had carried me this far.
Was it always fun? No. Did I enjoy it all of the time? Most certainly not. Was the struggle worth it in the end? Yes, without a doubt.
As I sat down, just absorbing the view around me, I felt so incredibly thankful. And I felt confident, yes, I just climbed that mountain, I’m awesome!
But the hike wasn’t over. We still had not reached the summit. After wandering along for a few more minutes, we came upon these huge rocks. Right in the middle of our path. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we would have to find a good foothold in the rocks, and literally pull ourselves up with our arm strength to get over these rocks.
Not once did I think about turning around, or question my strength. Those rocks were in my way and I was going to overpower them. I tested several cracks along the rocks where I might be able to perch my size 11 foot in order to haul my 5’9 frame over the rocks. After several tries I found a suitable hole, and reaching as far up on the rock as I could, I pulled myself up.
The result was me landing on top of the rock, on my chest, so I had to scramble, like a snake, to pull my stomach and legs up on the rock. I’m sure I looked quite hilarious as I huffed and squirmed my way up. But when I got to the top I felt like I had conquered the world. And as I looked out over our path, I could see nothing but giant boulders. My one thought was: bring it on.
It took my Mom and I an hour to scramble over all of the rocks before we reached the summit. And the view was every bit as beautiful as I could have ever imagined. It had taken us three and a half hours to hike up the mountain. We stayed at the top for twenty minutes, and it took us about two and a half hours to get back to our car. And that twenty minutes was worth all of the struggle.
I fell in love with hiking that day because it stood out perfectly in my mind as a metaphor for life.
Hiking and Life
I’ve been through struggles in my life, things that I thought I would never get over. And I beat myself up about it with negative talk. I was never smart enough, pretty enough, funny enough, I was a failure. All of this work was leading nowhere, or at least nowhere that I could see.
But, just like hiking, there is no straight path in life. Sometimes you have to go away from your destination in order to get to where you’re going. Sometimes, you have to struggle. And it’s not going to be easy, and you’re going to have to keep going even when you think you can’t go anymore. And there are things that are going to be in your way, like those big rocks in my path.
But instead of fearing them, or getting mad or frustrated or giving up, look at those rocks and say (in the words of Edmund Dantes in The Count of Montecristo) do your worst, for I shall do mine! And you find a way over those rocks and keep going. Because at the end of it all, there is something beautiful for you. There is a purpose to your struggle, and it’s because of the struggle that the destination will be so great.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in wishing your life away and hating the journey of life. As Sigmund Freud said, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
There is something that inspires confidence when you make it through the struggle. And sometimes the struggling, the knowing that you can do it, that you do have the ability to tackle something, is the best reward, and realization of them all.
What About Covid-19?
Covid-19 sucks. There is no other way to put it. We’re separated from friends and family, concerts are cancelled, travel is cancelled, jobs have been reimagined online, people have been laid off, patients are dying, it feels, in some sense, like the end of the world.
And maybe it is the end of the world as we know it.
I’ve struggled to come to grips with so many things during the past 4 months. We’ve all, in some sense, been struggling. Just like hiking-we’re on this painful, uphill journey that is scary and confusing and tiring. We can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, don’t know if we’ll get a pretty view at the end, don’t know if everything is going to be okay.
So, where is the beauty in this? I promised you a metaphor comparing covid-19 to hiking. And if you read carefully you know that there must be some reward from all this struggle, just like the beautiful view after a tiring uphill journey.
I can’t tell you what reward you have, what your pretty view is going to be. But I’ve experienced some beautiful views during covid-19 and quarantine.
Pretty Views During Covid-19
I dove deep in my yoga practice. After the initial heartbreak of not being in the studio, I discovered a deep joy doing yoga on my own. I didn’t feel the need to push myself to get into the perfect posture. I listened to my body and did what was right for my body at that moment.
One practice I fell asleep on the mat for 40 minutes. Another I did crow pose and held it for longer than I ever had before. I felt no shame in using props, or using the wall, or taking a rest in child’s pose, or modifying a pose. I did what I wanted and what felt good and it was amazing.
In addition, I started reading a lot more. I devoured mystery books, self-help books, and friend recommendations, hungrily reading for hours at a time, escaping into some other reality. My life felt richer as I learned more and was entertained in a different way than binge watching Netflix.
I facetimed my mom as we gushed over the latest Ruth Ware novel we read, debating which one was our favorite.
Social Media Detox
Next, I stopped being addicted to social media. I went from the girl who scrolled for hours everyday to the girl who participated only in facebook groups, searching for ways to grow myself, and check in on instagram for 5 minutes.
The freedom that came along with this was unbelievable; I found myself being less hateful, more loving, more carefree, and my anxiety was gone.
I spent time fixing up my house and my yard. Then, I purged my house of junk, reorganized my closets and my furniture, created a new office, built a pergola, planted tons of flowers, and made my home beautiful.
I enjoyed spending time in my home again, burning candles or sage or incense. My home became my sanctuary, my safe space, a place that I loved just being in.
Taking a Travel Blogging Class
My big accomplishment was taking a travel blogging class and getting serious about my travel blog. I spent my days watching videos, learning, talking, writing, editing, posting, and starting my business, yes, during a time when travel is all but impossible.
I managed to jumpstart a dream that I’ve had for years but never thought was possible. I’m still learning, still growing, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Lack of Travel
Perhaps the real joy of Covid-19 was lack of travel. Yes! I really just said that!
I was utterly devastated when I knew I probably wouldn’t be going anywhere for the summer-the first time I hadn’t spent a month abroad in 6 years. Instead, I spent a lot of time in Virginia with my mom and grandma, and more time than I’ve spent with my sister in St. Augustine, Florida in a long time.
I played tourist in St. Augustine with my boyfriend, stayed up late making dream catchers with my sister, and spent hours walking the beach, and then re-learning how to surf. When I stood up and rode my first wave into the shore in years, I was absolutely elated.
And then my grandma died.
Grief and Me
I cut my time in St. Augustine short and raced up to northern Virginia to be with my mom and help her with the final arrangements. I’m still reeling, I still feel like it’s not real. And it feels like my life is never going to be quite the same without my grandmother, Moo.
But, I am thankful. Thankful that I had my grandmother for 30 years, that she was like a second mom to me, that I grew up 5 minutes down the road from her my entire life, and that I talked to her on the phone every week, and came up often when I lived in Florida.
More importantly, I saw her so much over the summer-because I didn’t go to Southeast Asia as originally planned. I spent hours watching tv with her, talking, rubbing her arm, and just spending time with her. I saw her 4 days before she died, got to tell her how much I loved her.
What a privilege, what a silver lining in the midst of the covid craziness. What beautiful views.
I know at this time you’re struggling, we all are. But I hope you’re also getting some pretty views in the midst of your struggle. Know that you are not alone, that you are loved, that you are strong and amazing and you will reach the top.
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