When Things Get Hard: Lessons Learned from Hiking

Jacqueline Comola21 Mar, 2024

A group of young people climbs a ridge with moss covered slopes against a mountain background in Iceland

Hiking can be a healing activity for our bodies and minds. The physical exertion of a hike stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain that regulate our mood and ease pain. For many of us, nature is somewhere we can unwind from the stresses of every day life. But there’s also the important flip side of the hiking experience. Hiking in the outdoors doesn’t always come with sunny skies and gentle climbs. It certainly doesn’t always feel healing and nurturing in the moment.

Sometimes the rain comes down with a personal vendetta against you. Sometimes the trail is so steep and tenuous you wonder why you came out for a hike in the first place. Sometimes things get hard–really hard. So why do it at all?

Make Your World Small

It might seem contradictory to shrink your horizons when you’re a teenager on the brink of independence. The universe is at your fingertips in more way than one. Connection via smartphone is constant and the possibilities of how to spend your time are vast. Opportunities abound and responsibilities multiply with them.

This world is loud. It can feel chaotic. With so many options, it can be challenging to sort out what you truly want. Sometimes, it can be hard to even figure out who you are.

Hiking makes your world small. It boils life down to the essentials. You need to eat, you need to move, and you need to rest. If you’re accomplishing these things, you’re succeeding. Your mind has a chance to empty of the self-doubt, the urge to do more, and the desire to be perfect. These things don’t matter to the mountains you climb. These voices are quiet when the landscape around you is so vast.

When your immediate goals are so clear and simple, the real you has a moment to come forward. If you have big life decisions to make, setting out on a trail can be a good way to cut out the background noise so you can focus on what matters. Hiking can be an opportunity to get to know yourself, what you like, and what you want in life.

Two girls hike down a sunny trail with snow capped mountains to the left

You Can’t Get the View if You Don’t Make the Climb

It might be a stereotype, but working for a reward really does make it all the sweeter. We live in an age of instant gratification. So many things we want are only a click away on the internet. Scrolling through social media gives us a quick hit of dopamine that feels good for a moment, but can lead to detrimental side effects. It takes time and effort to earn a longer lasting satisfaction.

Delayed gratification is a powerful tool that wires our brains to feel good when we wait for what we want. Trudging up a trail when you’re screened in by brush can feel pointless and frustrating, especially when you just want to get to the top. It’s precisely these feelings that make it even more amazing when you finally step up to the summit.

It’s All in the Mind

Physical fitness alone might seem like the most important piece of being a successful hiker, but mental endurance might actually be the secret key. In their article “It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows”: A Thru-Hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, researchers from Appalachian State University posited that the most critical component for success when hiking in adverse conditions might very well be the psychology of the hiker.

Hiking comes with a host of challenges, some predictable and others unforeseen. The outdoors is appealing because we can’t control all of the factors we’ll encounter. No matter how well laid our plans, Mother Nature has plenty of opportunities to throw us curveballs. There’s only one variable that remains constant on a hiking trip: ourselves.

Physical preparation is important, but mental preparation even more so. If you set foot on a trail with the mindset that you will be ready to handle what comes next, a sudden rainstorm won’t be enough to make you quit. If you’re looking to succeed when embarking on a hiking adventure, pay attention to the mental space you’re in. It might make all the difference.

A line of hikers smiles into the sunrise as they climb a rocky trail

Carry Your Strength Beyond the Trail

Picture setting out on a hike in the wildflower dappled valleys of Mt. Rainier. The day is fine, you feel energetic, and your pack is light. Suddenly, the clouds roll in. The weather turns malicious and the wind picks up to an unpleasant gust. You’ve been going for hours and your body is getting tired. It’s chilly outside and the earlier fun of sunshine and easy trails has evaporated.

This is not the end of your hike. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be. This is actually the beginning of the most important part. This is where you decide what you need to go on. Maybe it’s another layer from your pack and a snack to warm you up. Maybe it’s a rest and a pep talk from your friend. Whatever that is, the decision to take care of yourself and carry on is one of the most important decisions you can make.

This is how we build resilience, on and off the trail. Conditions have to get tough for us to activate the problem solving parts of our brains. Learning to adapt to challenge is a life-long skill that allows us to move out of our childhood homes, go to university, make meaningful relationships, and chase our dreams.

Opportunities to Hike with Bold Earth

A boy does a handstand in front of the summit sign on top of Mt Kilimanjaro

If a hiking trip with other teens this summer feels like the right fit for you, take a look at the programs we offer. Most of our trips have hiking built into the itinerary and you can filter trips by activity if you want a more specific search. Some hiking-focused destination favorites are:

Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team with any questions. We hope to hear from you and in the meantime, happy hiking.

 

 

 

 

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