Some outdoor experiences are worthwhile not because of your enjoyment, but because of what they teach you.
My dad and I hiked a portion of the Withlacoochee State Forest Citrus Tract which totaled about 27 miles over two days. We started at Mutual Mine campground and camped at Jackson and then caught a loop back to Mutual Mine to finish.
I have a bit of a love hate relationship with hiking in Florida because I love hiking but enjoy it a little less in the heat and pine flats. I was also weary of going on this particular trip because I’ve been having some ankle problems due to a ligament strain, but we’re preparing to hike the High Sierra Trail and being outside is good for the soul.
Suffice it to say I was quite miserable and spent a lot time crying while I was walking. Hiking 27 miles in bad boots with a bum ankle isn’t the best life decision, I’ll admit.
Life is crazy in that the really hard things are often a way we learn valuable lessons though. Once I limped my way to our campsite we built a fire and made friends with two women on a backpacking trip and a couple who were self-proclaimed “white trash” according to the sticker on their truck parked where the trail crossed the road. Its easy to make quick decisions about people, and that was a mistake we made.
The women seemed aloof and anti-social while we assumed the couple was your typical rednecks. The problem here are the words “seemed” and “assumed.” Dad started a fire and we set up our backpacking chairs and slowly our campsite-mates joined us. The two women, who were just tired from a long day of hiking, shared stories about their jobs and other outdoor trips and listened to my stories of my outdoor semester. The couple shared their food and chairs and water with everyone along with facts about the plants in the forest they were trying to learn about in order to know more about the land. We had a lovely evening of getting to knowing each other and sharing s’mores over the warm fire. It was a good reminder in not making assumptions about people before knowing them.
I also relearned another lesson about myself. On my outdoor semester I was put in many situations that required resolve and mental fortitude. Some were very hard and made me want to give up. But time after time I chose not to give up. I didn’t realize how tenacious I was until someone pointed it out to me. That realization changed my whole perception of myself because it showed me the strength I had in me and a steely determination I could tap into.
On this hike I wanted to sit in the dirt, take my boots off, and give up. But more than that I wanted to finish what I started, plus have something more comfortable than the dirt to sit on. So with tears running down my face and many sounds of discomfort and frustration I walked those 27 miles. At one point my dad turned around and said, “I was listening to NPR,” which was a phrase spoken often on this trip, “and they were talking about a new thing people look for in their employees and leaders. That thing is grit.” He explained grit to me as strength and determination, and then told me I had grit. I smiled and rolled my eyes a little, at first writing it off as a cheesy encouragement to help make the hike better. But once we finished walking I pondered that a little more and remembered being applauded by other people for not giving up and being told that I’m quietly brave. The reminder made me smile for real.
Theres something about the outdoors that compels me to push myself. I’m not sure if its a desire to say “Look what I did!” or a want to prove something to myself or grow or just do cool things, or maybe all of the above. But I often find that being outside helps me be the best version of myself. I feel closer to the Lord, less distracted, and strong, plus it absolutely is a confidence boast to do cool things.
So, even though my feet are still a little sore, my ankle is more swollen, and the cartilage in my heels is a lil crunchy it was still worth it.
The hard things usually are.