This past weekend I hiked Mt Fuji in pouring rain, heavy cloud cover and temperatures between 45-50ºF. Touring the misery of that hike I re-learned several important life lessons. None of these are earth shattering or new to me. Like brain synapses being reinforced when you remember people places and things I feel the same reinforcement happens for these lessons. Good lessons are reinforced when you see them in action.
It’s not the clothes that makes a hiker: Some of the hikers on the mountain looked like catalogue models for outdoor equipment companies. They were decked out in brand name gear, while others had much less. The one that stood out was wearing a sweatshirt sweat pants, a bucket cap. At the end of the hike I hikers who had both completed the hike. How someone is dressed is not the only determinate on who they are. Just like the hikers on the mountain people may be capable of much more than what they are dressed for.
Pay for the infrastructure you use: At the beginning of the hike there is a booth for the Trail Conservation Society. The good Lord has done a great many things but he does not cut trails and maintain aid stations on the path to the top of Mt. Fuji. A donation was not required to hike but I felt if I was going to benefit from the path that had been cut for me and if I needed aid I was glad it was there. Previous hikers had paid before me so that I have a path to travel on so it was only right that I pay for those after me.
Plans change: Outside of my old job with the infantry I have done quite a bit of hiking. From a hundred miles through the Shenandoah National Forest, to fifty miles on the Pacific Crest Trail one weekend to a three day eighty mile hike from New Market to Lexington, Virginia. Hiking is not new to me. In all of these hikes I travel at the cadence of walk fifty minutes rest ten. This plan was put into question when I kept getting stuck behind large tour groups who were hiking at a snails pace. I ended up initially wasting a good bit of time being stuck behind these slower moving groups and while still taking my breaks. I adjusted my hiking cadence to hike until I hit one of these groups then rest while they slowly ascended. My overall pace was slightly slower, but not as much if I had kept to my original plan. Have a plan, but plans change and you have to adapt.
Focus on Results: The entire hike up the visibility was zero, it was raining and cold. As I was decending the clouds broke and the sun shone down burning off much of the ground fog. Part of me thought to turn around and climb back to the top to witness a clear view from the top. I was making good time for my group and still could have made it back to the bus if I ascended again. Then I though about what the goal of the hike was. My goal had always been to reach the summit of Mount Fuji. I had been to the tops of other volcanic mountains and had no strong desire to see this one in particular on a clear day. Knowing that I had reached my personal results for the day I continued to decend. It was for the best because just as fast as the clouds had parted the bad weather returned with rain, clouds and cold. Even if I did make it back to the top the view would have been the same.
Keep going: Sometimes thing suck and there is nothing you can do but keep going. Things were miserable from the beginning, but once I was completely soaked and hadn’t seen anything beyond twenty feet in front of me for a good two hours did I realize that this truly sucked. At that point there was nothing I could do about it. There was no reset button I could push, no quick escape. At best I would have to hike halfway down a mountain going the wrong way on a one way path. All I could do was keep on going.
Gear prep is essential: Like any good hiker I packed trail mix, beef jerky, and fruit. What I didn’t factor in was how tired I would be and how the cold would effect the dexterity of my hands on the mountain. When it was time to dig into the snacks I had difficulty tearing the plastic packaging due to everything being wet and my cold hands not working as I wanted them to. Luckily I had a pair of scissors in my first aid kit. If I just tore open the packets before the hike I could have gotten to the food easier.
When you think you are lost turn around to see where you came from: Several times on the hike down I felt lost in the fog and rain. There was a path, but a path of volcanic sand and rock made on the side of a mountain of volcanic sand and rock you start to question yourself. Knowing from other hikes the trail looks completely different depending on the direction you are traveling. Only by turning around and looking at the trail from my ascent perspective allowed me to realize I was on the right path. Always looking backward is a terrible way of hiking and going through life, but a quick glance back to see where you came from shows that you are heading in the right direction.
Again none of these are new to me or earths shattering, but they were valuable for me to see again in action.
Footnote: The picture was taken as we were boarding the bus. The clouds broke only between the time it took for us to leave the rest station to boarding the bus. In that brief moment I took this picture.