What a 10 Kilometer Hike Can Teach Us about Life

A hike can teach us about Life — keeping your eyes open means that everything is a lesson in elegance

The Costa Rica Update

rainbowFollowing the Booba

Lots of rain, rain, rain.

Good thing there’s stuff to do indoors, not all of which involve computers.


So, after 8 days of rain and storm level winds, the skies brightened, and Darbella and I headed off for a hike. We managed a hike pretty much every day for the first month and a bit, and then… well, hiking in a gale is not much fun.


We got to the bottom of the hill our casita is on, and turned right. This leads out of “town” and to a new subdivision being built 4.5 km. away. Let me tell ya, it’s up a hill and down a hill, and the road is rocks and soil and pot holes. And Lake Arenal is right there, to stare at. On a clear day (I hear singing!) you can see Volcan Arenal in the distance.

Walking along, talking, thinking. Dar and I have been hiking / backpacking / walking / travelling together for just shy of 30 years. We’ve learned a thing or two.

I got to thinking, a lot of what we know about hiking is helpful for living the Zen life in general.

Don’t Cheap Out

gearPretty good equipment,
even in 1983

We both have great boots, collapsible walking sticks, good packs of different sizes, and Dar’s smaller pack has a built-in hydration bladder. We certainly don’t go running off after fads, or buy the most expensive stuff. We got our latest packs half off.

But it’s false economy to buy cheap stuff, and even dumber to put off the essentials.

Life costs.

I’ve had 2 or 3 clients in my 30 year career that wanted to be therapists, and who also thought earning a Masters degree was too costly, would take too long, etc. They wanted me to persuade “someone” to just give them the degree because they wanted one.

On the other hand, a good friend decided she wants to be a dentist. She had to do some High School, then a BA, then a Masters. She’ll complete her degree after she turns 50! That’s investing in the good stuff.

You gotta be willing to put the time and effort into your self-knowing — do the therapy, do the Bodywork, learn how you get in your own way, and learn how to cut it out. This takes time and effort.

Praying about it, expecting divine intervention, (no, the angels aren’t coming) wishing and hoping — all lead to being stuck on the trail with a broken pack and the soles coming off your boots.

Plan, but don’t go nuts

Dar is an inveterate map reader. I like them too, and also know that I depend a bit on Dar’s nature to know where we are and where we are heading. On the other hand, the second time we were in the Boston area, I navigated from the other side of Fenway Park to Faneuil Hall on memory.

We tend to have the basics covered, and then we head off, trusting our guts, and winging it. Today, we knew that the 12 point was a new subdivision 4.5 km from our casita. We’d walked half way there another day and got rained out. On the other hand, the ups and downs were new to us, as was the turn around.

Life requires direction, without being anal about it.

Some folk simply talk a good show, and have tons of plans and diagrams to show what they are going to accomplish one day. And all that happens is that the plans get more and more refined — and nothing materializes in the real world..

Others go off half cocked, chasing the latest buzz, craze, or lust object. No thought, no point, other than, “Well, it’s got to be better than here!”

Planning and “good boots” go hand in hand. You then can take a step and evaluate. But it’s all about moving from map, to plan, to action. Thoughtful action!

Pick, then commit

The only hike Dar and I have been on that we didn’t complete was up Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland. We’d screwed up a day hike the day before (we actually trusted a Newfoundland Map and then saw the small type, “Not to scale.”) I was tired, and Dar was not interested in digesting her blueberry pancakes. We gave up, in 90 degree heat, about 34 of the way up.

Other than that, when we pick a hike, we also finish the hike. Even if we (like today) are dragging our aging bodies up the last hill.

Life requires mindful dedication

The media has a couple of generations convinced that life and goals “should be” easy — that stuff is served up on platters — that they don’t even have to leave home until everything is perfect. Some of my clients say, “But what if I pick wrong?”

It took me decades to get to what I really wanted to do, despite a diversion or two down a scary or dumb road. Been there, done that. I learned that, mostly, we can correct our course along the way, but we have to be on a course to correct it.

Life needs people willing to live their vocation, despite the cost in time, effort, dedication. There will be times when the going is almost impossible, and giving up seems the best option. And yes, sometimes giving up makes sense. But in general, the rule ought to be, “Give up when another step is impossible,” not when you get irritated that actual effort is involved.

Watch Where you Put Your Feet

In my younger days, a combination of karate and backpacking has led to my spraining both of my ankles a few times (separately, of course.) My ankles are quite weak, or more descriptively, the ligaments are stretched. I can turn my ankle on a pebble. And my hiking boots can only do so much. Actually, the collapsible walking stick I now use has saved my bacon dozens of times since I bought it.

What this means is that, if I want to finish a hike, I have to be constantly alert to where I place my feet.

Life requires paying attention

There are pitfalls, snakes in the grass, and obstacles everywhere. Really, no one has you in mind, but you.

Well, Clifton does, but he wants money. (Inside joke. Dar and I were leaving the Straw Market in Montego Bay, Jamaica, looking for a bank. Clifton offered to take us to a bank. All the way along, it was, “Watch out for that crack, mon! Careful, mon, the road is uneven. Move yer hips, mon…”)

Mostly, there is no Clifton, and mostly, the rocks and ruts on the path are pretty obvious. If we’re “head in the clouds,” we miss the cow poop at our feet. It’s not someone else’s job to pay attention for you.

Look Around

On the other hand, Lake Arenal and the volcano are lovely, there are squirrels and sloths and bugs, and critters all around. The view on today’s path was lovely, and staring at the ground means you miss the good stuff.

Life is a one shot deal

Take the time to see what’s happening. Go adventuring, take the trip, change dance partners, look around, sniff the air. Being so focused on your feet means you miss the drama, the big picture, the stuff that life is made of.

Stop. Stand still. Shut up. Stop prattling on like you know something, and just see what’s right there. Soak it in. Immerse yourself in the beauty and drama of the only life you’ll ever have. Embrace it all, and move with deliberation. It’s so Zen to be present and simply notice.

Count the Consequences

smileActually it could be a grimace

Every hike has it’s toll. We crashed when we got back home, and my hips hurt. Tomorrow, there will be more aches and pains.

Part of it is getting older, but I remember our very first backpack trip. Dar screwed up a toe, and we also walked 25 km under heavy packs. Day 2, we crawled out from our tent, only to confront two growling migraines. We spent the day whining, and Dar immersed herself in the frigid waters of Georgian Bay — she was skinny dipping, so I sat on a rock and watched.

Life is the one thing you don’t get out of alive

This game has only one outcome - death. Not another run at it, not thrones or virgins. Dead. So, now are you motivated to make yours count?

And here’s another flash - it could all end right now. This, “I’ve got all the time in the world” nonsense is what keeps you from living your dream. If you think you’ll get to it in a year or so, get over yourself.

It’s not morbid to live your life with a bit of anxious excitement, it’s reality. The walk is right in front of you, you’re bringing all you have ailing, and now is all you know is available to you. The consequence of life is death, yes, but between now and then is a road surrounded by adventure and richness.

Pick up your hiking stick, and walk.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

2 thoughts on “What a 10 Kilometer Hike Can Teach Us about Life”

  1. I’m a hiker and explorer too, and have often pondered the lessons from hiking and exploring that apply to my life. I try to remember what a charge I get out of not knowing what’s over the next hill or around the next bend, and the excitement of getting there and looking and experiencing. It helps me stay un-stuck.

    Please plan some hiking the week of Jan 4! And one (or several) soaks in hot springs would be absolutely marvelous. I’m so looking forward to my adventure in Guatemala and Costa Rica!


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