Last fall, Mark and I hiked a trail in the Rockies that was listed as easy. However, we later found out it was mismarked and it was really a moderate 6.5-mile trail!

The scenery was beautiful. We saw waterfalls, wildlife, and an alpine lake at the top of the mountain.

But getting there was a challenge.

There were times we wanted to quit. Times we wondered about turning back. Times we wondered if our Illinois lungs should be doing this hike at such a high elevation.

Yet we stuck with it. We did it at our pace and enjoyed both the beauty and the challenge. And as we hiked, we started talking about how much this hike was an analogy for life and even marriage.

Here are 14 life lessons learned from a difficult hike:

1) There are many obstacles that will block the path.

The journey isn’t a straight-shot. You may have to climb over fallen trees, carefully walk down a steep slope, or take a hand to climb up a rock. These obstacles don’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. They’re part of making progress in this imperfect, sometimes messy life on this side of heaven.

2) Signs may show the trail, but the path might not be clear.

Having direction is so important, especially as you’re moving through a path you’ve never walked before. When the path starts to feel confusing, look back at your directions to make sense of the correct way forward. (Hint: In life, directions = God’s Word / Truth).

Along the way we occasionally had to ask other hikers for clarity on the path. In real life, you sometimes need to ask for help to find the path to healing. This is what we provide as life and marriage coaches!

3) Sometimes you have to stop and get above the path in order to see what you need to see.

At times you’re too far “in the weeds” to really get clear perspective on the path forward. At those points, it’s often best to take a full step back to see the situation how it really is rather than how it appears to be. Both prayer and asking for help allow this to happen.

4) Sometimes the wrong path appears to be the right path.

Until you realize it is not. When this becomes true, turn around and go back to where the correct path is found. We did this several times on our hike. We’ve also done this several times in life. In fact this is what happened to Mark in our marriage crisis. He talks about that in this blog post.

5) Don’t panic.

When things go wrong, stay calm. Stay steady, take a deep breath, and think. The right path will reveal itself. We got scared a couple of times while we were hiking. Were we going to make it down before nightfall? Did we make a wrong turn back there? When we stopped and took a deep breath to think, we were able to stay calm and figure out what to do.

6) Sometimes when you aren’t sure what to do or which way to go, a sign will appear or a person will show up to point you in the right direction.

We met some helpful folks along the way that pointed us in the right direction or pointed out sights we didn’t want to miss like mountain goats way up on a mountain to the right! So neat!

We’re not meant to do life alone. We need to leverage the people who have valuable perspective on the journey ahead and keep an eye out for helpful guidance to keep moving in the right direction.

7) Take care of yourself along the way.

Drink lots and lots of water. Stop and rest when needed. Then get up and keep moving. Your well-being matters! We certainly had to do this on the trail but in everyday life as well. We only get one body so we have to take care of it along our life journey. (PSSST…are you due for a physical or any type of screening? My breast cancer was found on an annual screening and early detection made all the difference in the world!)

8) Perspectives are different on the way up and on the way down.

While we were hiking, we saw things differently on the way than the way down. We also used different strategies on the way up than down. In life, sometimes different tactics are required for the journey back than you used for the journey there. Stay steady, talk about the changes openly, and navigate those differences as they come.

9) Keep the goal in mind.

At first our goal was to make it to the waterfalls we knew were on the trail. Once we hiked to the waterfalls (see the picture below!), we decided to make our way to the alpine lake. The goal kept us going when we were tempted to quit.

What did you set out to accomplish? Keep that goal at the forefront during the whole journey. Don’t let the obstacles cloud out the ultimate goal.

10) Walk at your pace, and not the pace of others.

We were definitely some of the older folks on the trail! Some who started at the same time as us passed us hours later heading down while we were still going up. That was ok. We were still moving and we were enjoying the sites along the way. In life, we can’t measure ourselves against others. Some people navigate things quicker than you will. Others navigate things slower. Walk at the pace that makes the most sense for you.

11) Find the beauty along the way.

Enjoy the journey as much as you can! Look around. Take moments in. Laugh. Let the beauty of the moments settle in. Too often we move at such a fast pace, we miss the sights along the way. Slow down and marvel at what’s around you.

12) The description of the path might not be accurate.

Like in our experience of a mismarked trail, sometimes a path appears to be easy, but is much more difficult than you expected! This can lead to unrealistic expectations that we need to intentionally adjust. Once our expectations are adjusted, we can better appreciate and enjoy this adventure called life!

13) The journey is hard, but don’t quit.

There were several times during our hike that we asked each other if we wanted to turn around. Once was after I tripped on a tree root and fell. I scraped my knee, tweaked my back, and knocked the wind out of my lungs. It was tempting to want to quit. However, we persevered and I’m soooo glad we did! There’s so much value in pressing on through hard things like a sense of accomplishment, lessons learned, and sights seen along the way you would have missed if you’d quit.

14) At the end, you can celebrate that you made it!

You might feel exhausted, but you made it. You value it even more because you worked hard for it! This is when you celebrate that you reached your goal and persevered!

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