Or why sometimes the path you’re on doesn’t take you to where you long to be. And how it’s okay to forge a new trail.
Written By: Cassandra Ernst
“Winter is Coming . . . Are your tires prepared?”* Or at least that’s what a traffic sign in Denver told me a few weeks ago.
*A note of disclaimer—and a note of pride—I have yet to see an episode of Game of Thrones. So I while I’ll laugh with the rest of the world at that joke, I still don’t understand the full implications of winter or the tragic events that occurred during the Red Wedding.
Although we managed to hold off until mid-November, winter has finally arrived in Denver. And with the advent of snow comes my complete unwillingness to leave the house, even for something as grand as daytrips up to the mountains.
Of course, I can always hear my mother’s voice at this moment: “Never hike alone; that’s how you die.”
I do it anyways.
I mean, if I somehow find myself in a 127 hour situation in a wide, well-planned trail where families with toddlers walk by every five minutes, then I pretty much deserve to suffer a long and painful death.
But the painful agony of the beautiful James Franco aside, sometimes it’s necessary to get away from everybody you know for a few hours in order to reflect on the path you’re walking in life and if it’s going in the direction you want to be.
The path I was taking on this particular day was to Bear Lake.
It was a little over three miles so I shrugged my shoulders, pulled up my Camelbak, and smiled. No big deal, I was sure I could knock the hike out in about an hour, a little more since I planned to stop every twenty minutes to reflect on the beauty of nature.*
*A second note of disclaimer—and a note of shame—I only pretend like I’m a super outdoorsy expert hiker. I’m actually one of those girls who puts hiking as one of her hobbies, despite the fact that I go maybe three times a year in hopes that one day somebody who actually takes the two hour drive every weekend will start bringing me along with them.
The trail began uphill; I took a quick gulp of my water and began confidently striking ahead, every step reminding me of how powerful my legs really are—I mean, I live on a third-floor walk-up, so even when I skip a week at the gym, I’m climbing at least six flights of steps a day, usually twelve or eighteen!
Five minutes later, I decided it was a good time to observe the beauty of the changing leaves.
I swear I just wanted to admire the view!
At that time, I was pretty sure that I heard the faint rumblings of thunder. I turned around, looking back from where I came from, but then remembered that it did take me two hours to drive here and there was no way I was leaving this park without seeing Bear Lake.
And so, I pressed on, albeit a little more slowly. After about an hour of hiking . . . with no noticeable signs pointing to how much longer I had to go, I started to realize that maybe I overestimated my ability to make it to Bear Lake in a timely fashion. “I’ve been hiking for nearly an hour now, yet I have no notion if I’m even halfway to my destination. It could literally be just around the bend or I could have another two hours to go.”
I looked ahead to see some rocks that masqueraded as the trail. It seemed pretty steep and I had no clue how far I had already walked.
I turned around. Again. But then I remembered that I had a mission. I didn’t know what was waiting for me at Bear Lake. But I knew that I had to make it there. It was as if my life depended on it. “Turn back on the trail. Turn back on life. Maybe today’s not the day I find clarity, but every step is one step closer.”
And not long after that, I saw the sign.
I could hear Ace of Base serenading me.
Bierstadt Lake wasn’t the lake I intended to find, but I thought that it would be a nice place to have a snack. I also managed to make a quick sketch. Of course, I’m not artist, but I do try.
See the resemblance, didn’t think so . . .
To my left, I saw a married couple. They were sitting quietly, watching as a duck floated in the still waters. It began to mist. The wife stood up. “Okay, it’s been five minutes. We should get going before it starts raining.”
“Can’t you just appreciate this moment for what it is? Why must you always be in such a rush?”
They began to argue about whether to sit for a few more minutes and appreciate the view or continue towards their destination. The wife sat still for perhaps a minute longer. “We should really continue on!”
I find the same couple later . . . the wife is a few feet ahead.
The journey versus the destination.
It’s a question that always plays through my mind. I know where I want to be—I think I know where I want to be, at least—with my life. But it can be too easy to get caught up in the daily mundane life. Of course, it can also be too easy to focus so much on the destination, that you lose sight of the joys that surround the “so-called” daily mundane life.
So where do you strike the balance?
I sat at the lake for about ten more minutes, trying to capture in my mind what I couldn’t through photo or sketch, finally, destination wins out.
During the first half of the hike, I didn’t know what laid ahead of me. I didn’t even know how long I had been hiking. It was easy to think about turning back, because at least what was behind me was familiar. Bear Lake was this idea in my head, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take to make this idea a reality.
The second half of the hike was easy. There were more signs that let me know that I was nearing my destination and in under an hour, I had made it.
And was completely underwhelmed.
I figured that Bear Lake would be just like Bierstadt Lake, only bigger. It was bigger, that much was true. But it was also crowded with people and benches and Bear Lake didn’t have the same backdrop of grandiose mountains to offset the misty waters.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty view. Just not what I was expecting.
I wanted to go back. I wanted to return to that little, hidden Oasis that I had found at Bierstadt.
I didn’t know why I had pinned so much on this lake when, in reality, I knew almost nothing about it. I didn’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that a major attraction at the Rocky Mountain National Park would attract a major crowd of people.
All I knew was that this wasn’t what I had signed up for.
Of course, I feel like this quite a lot, if I’m perfectly honest with myself. I have managed to forge a pretty awesome path for myself, but I often wonder if this is where I really want to be. I mean, it’s hard to argue with the mountains, but is this the plan I started with?
I look back and recall my years in college, before a full-time job and full-time responsibilities that needed my full-time pay plagued my every step. My years in high school when literally anything seemed possible and twenty-five seemed like a lifetime away.
And I realized, as much as I loved who I was then, I also know I am no longer that girl. I no longer want to be that girl. This trail that I am forging goes one way and even though I may turn around occasionally and smile with nostalgia, I must continue to stride forward, taking time to appreciate the beauty of the moments that surround me now and the hope of the dreams I have for the future.
But I must also not be afraid to turn in a different direction when the destination I had thought I was striving for doesn’t fit into the life of the woman I am now. It’s okay to make different choices than the ones I would have made when I was fifteen or even twenty years old. And I know that when I’m thirty, I will be making different choices than the very determined plans I have today.
And I think that is what makes life so beautiful.
It is not so much the destination or the plans that we make for our future that will determine our ultimate happiness. Don’t get me wrong, you should have goals to strive for. But don’t pin your happiness on those plans and goals. Because sooner are later—no matter how sure we are that we’re on the perfect path to make all our dreams come true—those plans are going to change. And when they do,
Instead, learn to love each step of your journey. Because it is the journey that makes the man.
Or in this case, woman.
A picture of Alberta Falls . . . my second destination for the day after Bear Lake . . . the journey to the falls was beautiful, but I long for a new destination to discover in the mountains.
What destination is your journey moving you towards?