Most Coloradans know of this infamous hike. A hike that takes you literally up the side of a mountain in a (relatively) straight line. A hike that is almost a mile long with a 2,000 elevation gain. A hike of 2,691 steps, most of them steep and uneven.
Ever since I moved to Colorado, I’ve heard about The Incline. “Have you done The Incline yet?” people ask me with a strange hint of awe in their voices. It strikes fear in the faint of heart. It makes one queasy of breath. As my roommate said once, “I’d never, ever do The Incline.” Yet it brings the fire of challenge to others. The promise of achievement and honor.
To hike The Incline is no small thing. (Okay, I’ll stop with the dramatic movie voiceover type thing).
And I finally attempted to hike The Incline this Saturday. No, attempted is not the word. I HIKED The Incline. I walked up a mile of 2,691 steps with a 2,000 elevation gain. It took me over 1.5 hours. My legs burned, my heart pumped, my head hurt, but I did it.
When I reached the top, my body was tired yet alive. I was so excited! You see, I have Lyme’s Disease, and even a year ago the thought of making such a trek seemed entirely out of reach. I was faint and weary and weak. But the past year I have been proactively fighting Lyme’s Disease through various means, and I feel so much better.
So this Saturday, when I reached the top of The Incline and wasn’t falling apart, I knew I had achieved something that was for me a huge step in the right direction.
No pun intended.
Yet when I was hiking The Incline, I kept thinking about ways it related to real life. So here are the lessons I learned about life while hiking 2,691 steps up a mountain.
1. Life takes determination, disciple, and hard work.
When we were crawling our way up, I reached a spot where a man was kneeling as if in pain. “How do you do this?” he asked. “You put one foot in front of the other, then you put your other foot in front of that one, and you keep going,” a girl I was hiking with said. And it was so true. The only way to accomplish The Incline was to simply keep going, to learn the discipline of mind and heart to take one step after another.
So often that’s how life is. How do we keep going? How does one face the adversity and pain and hardships of life? We put one foot in front of the other, we take one day at a time, we do the next thing on our list…and slowly, we survive.
2. Sometimes in life, rest is needed.
I know we Americans are all about busy, busy, busy and rush, rush, rush. But sometimes, we need to slow down, even to stop, and think and rest. This was true on The Incline, especially since it was my first time doing it. I had to stop many times and simply enjoy the experience and rest or I would’ve fallen apart. I had to learn to push myself, but also to know when to let off and take a moment to get a drink, take pictures, or enjoy the scenery. Rest is crucial to a long trek. Rest is crucial to a long and hard life.
3. In life, you can’t compare your progress to others. It’s YOUR life that you must focus on. If you focus on others, you will often be discouraged.
This is the biggest thing I thought of while on The Incline. You see, as hard as The Incline is for your average hiker, some people just ran up it like it was nothing. I hear that lots of Olympic athletes hike The Incline, and I’m pretty sure I saw some that day. They literally would pass me and be way up the trail in a moment, while I was slowly taking another step. If I had focused on how fast another person was going, and how silly I was for going slower, I would’ve easily given up. If I had focused on my weakness compared to other hikers, I would’ve caved into discouragement and discontentment.
In life, comparing oneself to others is debilitating and detrimental. There will always be someone with something you don’t have. There will always be someone better. But no—I had to focus on MY journey, on my accomplishments. And for someone like me who’s battled health issues the last few years—hey! I think I did pretty good on my first try. That’s all that matters.
4. In life, you just can’t do it alone. Everyone needs a little help along the way.
The thing that surprised me the most about The Incline was that a lot more people than I thought tried it. And as we all tried to climb these 2,691 steps, we developed a kind of camaraderie born of adversity. There was this one older man who was having a really hard time. “I have two fake hips, knee replacements, and a titanium leg!” he yelled. “Why am I doing this?” “You’re a man of steel!” we cried in support. “You can do it!” And he did. The support of others helped him beat the odds.
There were several times I did almost lose my balance or slip, and yet I had friends with me to yell out for me to be careful or help me along. In life, we need encouragement when the going gets rough. We need to encourage others. Sometimes, just being together on the journey can be enough to keep us going in the roughest of patches.
5. In life, you will never regret taking that risk or leap of faith. You will never regret pushing yourself to new heights.
I think often times we have really low expectations of ourselves as humans. We coast along life, we sit around and watch TV, we hide by surfing the internet. And we never engage with the world. We just don’t do much.
Yet when I was on The Incline, I was reminded that humans have a capacity for strength and determination that we seldom put into use. As people urged themselves onward, I was inspired by the truth that to take risks and to challenge oneself is to be fully alive. When I reached the top of the summit, I knew I had challenged myself in ways I would never regret. I proved to myself that day that I am not as weak as I often think I am. And that when I challenged myself—that’s when I really get to see things happen. Risk is a vital part of life, and I will embrace it. I will not be afraid.
6. In life, you are more than meets the eye. You can overcome whatever life has thrown at you.
The Incline is intimidating. It’s long and hard. There were moments I thought I might not make it. There were times I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. I pressed onward, and I overcame.
In life, we face adversities we don’t think we can handle. We face pain that often seems overwhelming. We may look at a new day and wonder how we’ll ever get through. But there is more to us than meets the eye. We don’t have to give up. We don’t have to surrender. We can live fully each moment of each day—in joy or sorrow—and we can survive. No, we can thrive. There is hope, there is always hope.
I needed to remember these truths about life in the past few days. It’s been a discouraging week. And 2,691 steps were what helped me remember.
I guess I always learn things the hard way.
For more information on The Incline, visit this website.