Every time I get back from visiting a new place, people ask me “How was your trip?” I am not good at this question. I know most of the time they are being polite, and I am expected to say, “It was great, thanks for asking.” But this is not what happens.
What usually happens is my eyes get ginormous, and I begin to describe various parts of the trip in great detail, in no particular order. If you ask me how my trip was, I’ll tell you about what I saw or thought I would see but didn’t. How the weather was better or worse than expected. How many hours we stayed awake in a row on our flight there. I’ll try to describe the interesting people I met. Teach you something new that I learned. Tell you the strangest food I tried. Show you a picture of the Airbnb we stayed in. And inevitably, I’ll end up attempting to explain how the place made me feel, because that’s what I’ll remember most clearly and permanently.
Our most recent trip was no different. Two weeks ago Tyler and I set out for California. We spent a quick weekend in Los Angeles before departing for Yosemite with 10 other people in a giant, black van with tinted windows and plenty of storage space. We looked like a rock band on a very remote tour as we rolled into the national park.
One of my very best friends in the world, Brooke, was turning 30 that week. She wanted to celebrate this milestone in Yosemite surrounded by people she loved. So 12 of us traveled from various parts of the country to help Brooke ring in the year of 30, which in my opinion truly speaks to the impact she is making in this world.
Also, she's a fantastic photographer, so I used her pictures from the trip instead of mine.
After traveling all day, we arrived at the park late Monday, tumbling out of our tour van like kids on the first day of school. We settled in to our yurts, which if you’ve never stayed in, I highly recommend, particularly if you want to feel like you are camping but still get to sleep in a bed.
Tuesday was our first full day in Yosemite, and due to some confusion on exactly how difficult it would be, we decided to start our adventure by tackling the biggest hike of the week: All the way up and all the way down Yosemite Falls. We later learned that this is the highest waterfall in North America, but Tuesday morning, our naive bunch set out on the trail, ready for a beginner-level trek, oblivious to the possibility that this might be more difficult than predicted.
Within the first hour we had already shed our top layer of clothes, reapplied sunscreen twice, drank a large percentage of the water we were carrying on our backs and had a close encounter with a rattlesnake. We were told the hike would take approximately eight hours, and we were starting to realize how long those eight hours would be.
Another hour and a half in, I’m not sure which was louder: the growls coming from our stomachs or the screams coming from our leg muscles. Either way, it was a good time to stop for lunch, especially since we had just stumbled upon the most quintessential place to eat our soggy sandwiches and trail mix, just beneath the coolness of the falls.
It was really difficult to put my bag on my back again and walk out of the shade after sitting on a tree limb, enjoying the gentle mist for 20 minutes or so, but we did not start this hike to make it to the lunch spot – we started it with plans to go all the way to the top – so onward we went.
It was even hotter and somehow my bag felt heavier after lunch, but the higher we climbed, the more the anticipation to make it to the top danced around inside of my stomach. Every time we came to a turn, I just knew I would see the top of the mountain, but I was repeatedly let down by more rocks to trip over, more streams to splash through and more distance between me and my destination.
But the higher we climbed, the more the excitement grew. It was like with every mile-marker we passed, I was more and more confident we were actually going to make it the entire way. We were really doing it.
And the views along the way didn’t suck either.
Finally, nearly five hours in, we made the final turn, and all I could see was sky. Bright blue sky that extended on forever. There were no more turns. No more giant, jagged rocks. No more “almost theres”. No more “just let me stop to wipe the sweat out my eyes.” No more “need to put a bandaid on my blisters.” No more “where’s the rest of the group?” No more “I think I’m chafing.” No more “yep, definitely chafing.” We made it.
And as I stood (sat) on top of that mountain, water rushing down beside me like a force to be reckoned with, I felt so tiny. It was truly difficult for my mind to comprehend the vastness and power of the mountains and trees and waterfalls surrounding me. They were so big. So majestic. So terrifyingly dangerous, but at the same time so full of grace and beauty.
They reminded me how small I am. How minuscule my entire life is. Tiny, but not insignificant. The decisions I make and the life I live matters, but if I make a mistake or “fail” by my own standards, these giant mountains and trees and waterfalls will keep existing just the same. Carrying on with a magnificent steadiness, reminding all of us that the world does not revolve around us. And even if we miss a beat, remarkable things are still taking place. It’s not our responsibility to get it right every time. We have the freedom to fail. And the freedom to rest. And the freedom to let it be out of our hands.
I’ve heard several quotes alluding to the idea that it’s not about the destination, but the journey. After hiking Yosemite Falls on that Tuesday, I don’t think that’s true. I think sometimes the destination is breathtakingly beautiful and the journey is painful and hard and kind of sucks. More than either of these, I think it’s about proving to yourself that you can do it. About being brave and pushing through when all you want to do is quit. Convincing yourself to hike just one more mile. Because if you can make it one more, I bet you can make it another.
So go one more mile. Write one more chapter. Do one more workout. Lead one more meeting. Create one more design. Build one more fort with your kids. Host one more dinner party. Go to one more therapy session. Speak up about one more idea.
It’s ok if you need to stop and take a break. In fact, it’s encouraged. The mountains and trees and waterfalls will continue to exist if you pause. So will your career, your dreams, and the people you love most. But if it’s something you believe is right, don’t quit just because it’s difficult. We don’t do the things because they’re easy; we do them because of how we feel when we’ve accomplished something that truly matters.