Friday, June 20, 2014

Thoughts from the hiking trail

You may recall that I am out in California on a hiking vacation right now.

In fact, if you follow my Twitter or Facebook feeds, you may even be sick of that vacation by now, what with daily photo updates and the like.

But really, it's eye-opening in so many ways. Yeah, the world is beautiful, and sometimes we just don't notice. Get on a hiking trail in the Eastern Sierras (or anywhere, really) and you can't help but realize that you are just a small part of something much bigger and more amazing than your usual tiny world. And there's also just no better way to bond with your kids -- even if, like mine, they aren't children any longer -- than on a vacation that you are all enjoying together. The conversations with them, whether on the trail or off, have been great.

But I realized a big one about my own happiness too. For me -- and I suspect I am not alone in this -- life is more fun, and I am more content and happy, if I can strike just the right balance between the familiar and the new.

And I realized this all in a moment of particular clarity after multiple days of hiking out here.

See, this is not our first time in the mountains near Mammoth Lakes, California. We have not quite "done it all" in recent years, but we have hiked a wide variety of trails, from Yosemite all the way south to Mount Whitney. So when we return, like now, we don't want to just keep doing the same old stuff, but -- and this is a big but that does not lie -- I have realized that we also need a certain amount of familiarity and routine to optimize the experience.

So this time around we've kind of inadvertently hit the hiking-trail sweet spot in the balancing act between "same old" and "new." There have been some returns to old favorites, as well as a number of hikes that, somehow, we've never managed to get around to previously. But the most rewarding ones have been those that combined the familiar and the original/new/different. We hiked through the Little Lakes Valley -- a spot we've been through every time we have ever been out here -- but this time we decided to go off on a spur trail near the usual turnaround, and we found a deep, clear gorgeous lake that, really, we had no idea was even back there.

We returned to that area a few days later, but decided to head for the wildly unfamiliar -- a nine-mile round trip on a trail we had never ventured on previously up to a glacial cirque in a no-way-out-'cept-the-way-you-got-here dead end. It was gorgeous -- a real life-affirming blast of something new and different, yet actually only a few miles from the familiar hikes of the past.

And then two of us nearly got hopelessly lost on the way back from the cirque and its accompanying crystal clear Tamarack Lakes, teaching ourselves a little about clear-headed thinking and calm under pressure as we backtracked our way to our wrong turn and figured out just how we had turned an easy 9-miler into an 11-mile ball of confusion.

There's a lot of time to think out there amidst two weeks of stomping through the woods, over mountain passes and up to beautiful lakes that the more sedentary among us never will see. And I realized, somewhere amidst all the ebullience and cognition -- and, yes, even while nearly getting dangerously lost -- that the aforementioned sweet spot/balance in familiar and new amidst hiking trails applies to my whole damn life.

The familiar aspects of my life are wonderful, awesome even, but new experiences are cool too. And here is the kicker: the best of all is when I can strike the right balance, or even combine the two -- whether it's fun new experiences with the great people in my life, or doing something fairly routine but with a new twist, like (metaphorically) discovering a lake I've never seen before at the end of a trail I thought I already knew.

Not terribly profound, I suppose, but somehow it took a series of beautiful hikes to sort that one out so perfectly in my brain.

We have six days to go out here. If you're sick of the vacation photos, you have a few more days' worth to sit through. Heh.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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