In 2018, I hiked my first Smoky Mountain trail. It taught me some great lessons about life in general. (You can read that first article HERE.)
This year, we once again took a respite from reality in the Smokies, Gatlinburg to be specific. Two weeks to hike trails, explore a couple of the motor trails, and commune with nature.
Again this year, as I was hiking, I realized some more unwritten, unspoken rules of the trail that should apply to living life.
This year the trails were not as crowded as they were in 2018. COVID, “social distancing,” and travel cautions have kept many people from leaving home. But, there were people on the trails; and no, I didn’t know any of them.
All of us, however, were on the same mission: either make it up the mountain to a specific destination or make it back to our vehicle. Some trails are in and out, meaning that you go a certain distance and then return to your vehicle by the same trail. Others, however, run in a loop.
In most cases, the people I passed greeted me or I greeted them. “Morning. Great day for a hike.” or “Hi, how ya doing?” A couple of times, as I was passed or passed people, we struck up a conversation and hiked together for a while. It made the climb or descent more pleasant.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all greet each other with a smile and a pleasant voice each and every day. We are all going through life separately together. You never know what kind of day someone is having or when your smile and greeting can turn someone’s day around.
Many of the days that we were in Gatlinburg it looked like it might rain, and often, it did rain. In fact, the first hike I took this time around, it began to rain at the very end of the 1.5 mile “in” part of the “in and out” path. Since I was on a timed schedule, there was no time to hide out under a tree or under one of the couple of bridges that crossed the path. I had to go forward. I smiled; I giggled; and I pressed on.
On any hike, I make sure to prepare for sun, bugs, rain, and nature’s uncertain terrain. There is a towel in my water-proof hiking pack and my cash in a plastic bag. And, I NEVER leave home without a walking stick.
“What about an umbrella?” you ask.
There is no room for an umbrella on the hiking trails. You get wet – you dry. You complain about the rain and being wet, the rain seems to go on forever. You laugh about the rain, and the sun seems to come out sooner.
It is important to plan for the worst, but hope for the best. Like hiking the trails, you never know what life is going to hand you. Leave for a destination a bit early; save a little money for emergencies; and remember that life is a journey.
On the trails of the Smoky Mountains, there are many obstacles: rocks, roots, mud, fallen trees, branches reaching onto the trail, and decisions about which way to go. Not to mention the inclines and twists and turns. Some off-shoot paths take you to nowhere; they are fun to explore, but one needs time to take that off-shoot. If, however, you are going to reach your destination, you must keep your focus on the trail ahead of you and keep moving forward.
In life, you need to be like a hiker and keep your eyes focused on today and the future, and don’t keep dredging up your past. Be like the river – always moving forward.
My first hike in the Smoky Mountains in 2018 was along a path that was paved, handicapped accessible trail. It was an easy hike that caused me to over-estimate my hiking skills. The second hike allowed me to realize that I needed a walking stick AND wild life (in this case a deer) call these mountains and woods home; and that choosing to walk along these trails, I am a guest in their home.
Although deer are not necessarily dangerous, there are real dangers on the hiking paths in the Smoky Mountains. Black bears, snakes, slippery or unstable rocks in a stream, the swift current of the water, tree roots, and steep drops.
A hiker MUST always be aware that danger could be around a bend or just over a rise. That by visiting the mountains, wild life is not always happy to see humans. And, by being aware of the dangers along the trail, we are better able to make our way through the forests and over the mountains.
A hiker MUST always be ready for the easy trail to become difficult and to evaluate the dangers.
In life as on the trails, things are not always what they seem. The cute black bear cubs of the Smoky Mountains look so sweet, but Mama Bear is very protective of her own. Don’t cross her. Give her the space she needs and she probably won’t disturb you.
If we are aware of the dangers in life, we can learn to make good choices as we journey ahead.
Years ago, I chuckled when a “fence” of types was erected along both sides of a local bridge to keep kids from jumping off into the river.
So often, “the powers that be” set up safe-guards to protect people from themselves. Yes, to protect those who don’t seem to have any common sense or who are too easily double-dared to do something.
Go on a hike somewhere, anywhere, through nature. It doesn’t need to be on a mountain trail. As you walk, for the most part you MUST use your common sense: if you get to close to the edge of a bridge that hasn’t got a rail, you will probably fall off the bridge; if you don’t walk carefully across the single log bridge, you will probably mis-step and fall; or if you ascend the damp rock stairs too quickly, you might slip. Common sense keeps you safe and helps you make good decisions.
Every day and everywhere, you MUST practice using your common sense. Don’t let your fears become the obstacles that keep you from where you want to go; but, on the other hand, be aware that it is your common sense that helps you make good decisions in life.
No matter where you stand in life today, there are lessons to learn around every corner. Always be open to the lessons that life and the world have to teach you.