Lessons from the trail: Hike with the body you’ve got

20150904_150246A short time before I watched one of my water bottles fall out of my pack and over the little cliff pictured at right into the Split Rock River, I had an epiphany.

You have to hike with the body you have, not the one you once had or the one you wish you had.

The Split Rock River loop is, justly, one of the most popular loop trails on the Superior Hiking Trail. It’s accessible, smack in between two incredible and popular state parks, it has great parking, and it’s a manageable five miles or so. And it’s very, very beautiful.

In the time B.O. (before obesity) I used to knock off this trail and others like it without much trouble, with a full pack and not just a day pack.

Not any more.

20150904_152135None of that is easy to accept. In fact, it’s very easy to get down on yourself or even experience a certain self-loathing. Even if no one “fat shames” you to your face, it’s very easy for a person to do it to himself. It’s even a little embarrassing to be seen on the trail with all those fit people.

One of the reasons I was out on this hike, aiming to finish that loop, was to gauge myself physically — was I still capable of it?

So I started off down the trail at something like my old pace, and pretty soon I was winded and wishing I had my old body back.

That’s when I remembered something I learned when I first started backpacking: I have to find my gait. I’ve found that there is a certain pace and stride where I can walk comfortably and at a decent pace for a considerable distance without needing to stop often. Could I find it again, even if the pace and stride were different than they were in the good old days?

It turned out that I could.

20150904_152135That’s when I realized that I had to hike in the body I have. In fact, if I ever want to see improvements, to transform my body into something more like what I wish it were, the very first thing I have to do is accept where I am at this moment. Only by doing that can I push myself without hurting myself.

It’s the difference between shame and humility.

In the spiritual life

All this reminds me of something a favorite spiritual writer wrote about the life of a Christian: You have a certain right to begin where you are.

He writes, in Interior Freedom:

The freedom to be sinners doesn’t mean we are free to sin without worrying about the consequences — that would not be freedom but irresponsibility. It means we are not crushed by the fact of being sinners — we have a sort of “right” to be poor, the right to be what we are. God knows our weaknesses and infirmities, but he is not scandalized by them and doesn’t condemn us.

20150904_165636Here, too, shame, as opposed to humility, is self-defeating. We can be afraid to be seen, even (or perhaps especially) by God. Like Adam and Eve, we hide when we become aware of our brokenness. Maybe we wish we were more like we used to be or more like someone else.

But when we do this, we cannot grow. We have to begin where we are, and with God, we need not be ashamed, only humble and contrite.