• Mary Anderson

How Hiking Teaches Us to Be Flexible

I’ve heard it said that the older you get, the harder time you have adjusting to new situations. If that is the case, then hiking will keep me young, at least in my mind.

I am constantly having to adjust out here. First, there are the minute changes that happen often each day. When climbing a hill, I adjust my pack by pulling the shoulder straps tight. I lean forward and adjust my steps to the grade and elevation, slowing down if I need to, so I don’t burn out before the end of the day. At the top of the climb, I immediately loosen my shoulder straps to let the pack weight fall back and help hold me more upright on the descents. I lengthen my poles and adjust my stride according to the steepness of the descent.

When water is scarce, I have to adjust how many miles I try to do in a day. When I wake to a raging thunderstorm with exposed ridges ahead, I have to adjust my daily plans. I’ve learned to stop and chat with interesting hikers going in the opposite direction even when it means adjusting my daily schedule. In fact, I am learning to have only a loose schedule out here and to let each day come as it will.

For someone who has liked to have a sense of control and count miles, this is a big accomplishment. I am enjoying the loosening of structures and getting better at taking each day as it comes, without worrying or looking ahead too far. The trail enforces some structure, as I have to get from point A to point B before my food or water runs out. But other than that, being flexible is really the key out here. There are way too many unknowns, such a dried-up water sources, extreme weather, and fire closures on trail.

I’ve been learning to really focus on just small sections of trail each day. I’m not worrying about how I’ll manage to haul six pounds of water twenty-five miles up and down a lot of steep climbs, and out of the blue a young hiker offers to cache a few pounds for me. When I am really tired and draggin, I let myself take a short nine-mile day without worrying about my food holding up. I find that the next few days I am able to make eighteen miles, and I reach town with food to spare. I find water where there was none expected. I don’t worry when I hear all the hotels in town are booked because it is Pride Week. That’s when someone comes by and randomly offers me a phone number to call when I near Helena. I find cell service on the trail and call. I am offered both a ride to town and a place to stay without even asking. I just have to adapt my plans and work on getting into town a day ahead of when I expected to.

I don’t think that everything in life will always fall into place for me in a way that feels so satisfying, but however things fall, i am certain that worrying about them ahead of time won’t help. And being flexible helps me adapt to the opportunities as they come along. I just have to keep remembering to adapt by leaning into the uphills and relaxing back when going downhill, trusting that eventually it will all even out.

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