It was Sunday, around 9:20 am. As three friends and I made our way up the winding switchback trail into foothills of the Sandia mountains, our ascent was only just beginning. I happily assumed a position at the rear of the group while my pup, Scout, pulled excitedly on the lead. Fuzzy black caterpillars dotted the trail and the mid-morning sun was blazing overhead. The trail was noticeably busy and it wasn’t long before we started playing the passing game with several groups of older hikers.
I’d done a portion of this very hike, Embudito Trail, last summer, only a couple months after moving back home. I loved it. I can still recall the challenge, as I was still re-acclimating to Albuquerque’s elevation, but I felt strong and capable as I powered up the path with these same friends.
Sunday was different.
My legs felt heavy only a few minutes into the hike, and my breathing became more and labored with every step. I immediately recognized that it was going to be a challenge keeping up, as my friends are powerhouses and seemed like veritable speed hikers compared to the pace I found myself walking. We were only half way up the hardest section. I’m not a fast hiker on a good day, so it was painfully obvious that this was going to be an uphill battle. And even though I know my friends would never make me feel bad for needing to take a break, I still felt embarrassed and upset to find myself in a position where I was holding the group back. I tried to listen to my body, stopping for breaks when I felt like it would be reckless to keep pushing. At one point, I hesitated, suppressing a well of tears as I contemplated turning back.
But I pushed forward.
Realizing that turning back would be more humiliating than being the day’s slow poke straggler, and that any forward motion is still motion in the right direction, I moved my legs-turned-lead-weights one step at a time, struggling as I pulled myself up past piles of granite boulders and around steep switchbacks. I felt panicky and confused and left my camera in my backpack even when the views were stellar, too ashamed to pull it out and slow my pace even more (so all of these pictures were snapped hastily with my iPhone on our descent).
What was wrong with me?
I’m still not sure why I struggled so much on this particular hike. Maybe it was my 16lb pack, eating less than ideally the last couple of days, one too many skipped trips to the gym this winter, or the previous day’s game of tennis. Maybe the pace was just too fast for me. But whatever the reason, it totally screwed with my confidence.
After the group took a snack break on a boulder, I scarfed a fruit strip and a couple of Clif energy chews and felt a bit better. When we got going again, the descent began, but I remained in the caboose position, afraid of hitting another wall, and too out of breath to join in on the conversation. After a while, I started silently ruminating on the parallels between the feeling of lagging on a hike and lagging in life.
It’s an awful feeling, falling behind.
You start off so gung-ho, ready to rock this thing! And then, slowly, the struggle grows like a thundercloud until, before you know it, everyone else is yards ahead and you’re being passed with a smile by the people you’re used to passing. This is where I am and let me tell you – it’s just as distressing to feel this on the trail as it is in real life.
Over the last 6 years, I’ve lived more fully than I ever thought possible. At 22, I turned a silly dream into reality by moving to Alaska, where I fell in love, kayaked with Orcas, bought a house, traveled. Then it was on to Portland, where Steph and I both landed well-paying jobs and proceeded to throw money at things and people, wine and dine our way around Portland, and travel some more. It was an amazing time in my life, and I certainly don’t regret even a second of the incredible experiences and adventures Steph and I have had together. But, as with many things, there was a price to this carefree, lavish life, and I’m now facing the ramifications now that I’m literally and figuratively back where I started.
Last summer’s move back to New Mexico called for some huge sacrifices. Our income was sliced in half, which has been the hardest part of coming back home. In Portland, we were this.close. to buying a $350k house. Now? We’ve been living at Steph’s dad’s house for a few months in an attempt to bulk up our savings to buy a much cheaper house in a year or two (shout-out to Saint Robert!). My peers are starting businesses, families, and buying houses. And as wonderfully full as the last few years have been, it’s hard to remember that when I’m here, back where I started before we left for Alaska, toiling away while it now feels like everyone else is eons ahead of me.
But as jarring as it is to suddenly feel so far behind, I trust that we’ll eventually catch up if we keep pushing forward. Just as I plan to keep working on increasing my physical strength and stamina, I also plan to keep working towards personal goals off-trail. Keep pushing forward. Just keep pushing forward. I still have to remind myself of this often, on trail and off. We moved back home knowing that it would be a difficult adjustment, but felt reassured that the trade-off of being back home with our people would make it worth the “hardship.” And it has, absolutely, without a doubt. We’re surrounded by awesome, supportive and caring people. And every night I fall asleep in a cozy bed with the truest love I’ve ever known by my side, and two sweet fur babies at the foot of the bed. I drift to sleep and dream of Juneau, Portland, and all we’ve been lucky enough to have seen and done. When I awake, I’m truly happy and excited for all we have yet to see and do, still gung-ho and ready to rock this thing in the present, even if I’m a little behind.