First Time Hiking In the Dark I Found the Light

Have you ever felt lost, not sure what to do with your life? I had one of these moments after graduating college in 2000.

What did I want to do after graduating? Go back to school of course. So, I applied for a graduate assistantship to coach swimming which would allow me to attend school for free. One thing held me back from this path, my GPA. It was not high enough to get the position. My mind was spinning, and I just did not know what to do.

  • How would I get a Masters? I can’t afford to pay for more schooling!
  • Am I going to be a lifeguard for the rest of my life?
  • What will other people think?
  • I have a college degree now, it’s time to do something with my life.
  • The plan I had to be a professional swim coach is shot!

Mind Over Matter

I guess you could say I was experiencing a mini panic attack. Amid all this mind chatter, worry and fear, I had this overwhelming urge to just escape and go for a hike. My coworkers covered for me and I was off. Grabbing a power-aid, backpack, my dumb phone, and a camping blanket (not sure exactly why). No plan, not even directions just followed this desire to escape into nature. I set off to the Delaware Water Gap.

When I arrived, it must have been around 3pm. I hopped on the nearest trail which I found by following other people to the trail head. It was just what I needed to clear my head, fresh air, just me and the trees, water, and beautiful views. It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear. My worries just melted with each step I took.

When it Rains It Pours

Still unsure of my future but noticing it was getting late I decided to turn around and start back towards my car. After a little while, I heard my cell phone ding, alerting me to a voicemail. It was my then girlfriend giving the old line of “we need to talk”. Of course, this couldn’t wait so I found a place off the trail where I had cell service overlooking the Gap and gave her a call back. After a lengthy conversation, she broke up with me over the phone, I don’t even remember the reason she gave. Talk about when it rains it pours. Feeling distraught I called one of my friends and chatted. Next thing I knew, the sun was getting lower in the sky, and I still needed to hike out!

I started back down the trail. Oh, did I mention at the time I didn’t have the best sense of direction. Yep, you guessed it, after I started noticing things looked familiar and then way too familiar, I found myself hiking further away from my starting point. By the time I realized this, the sun had basically set, and those trail markers were getting harder to see.

Panic overwhelmed me. Thoughts of being stuck out there till the next day crept into my mind. Maybe packing that blanket was a good idea. What happens if I twist my ankle as I could not see my footing? What if I get attacked by a bear or another wild animal? The saving grace was the moon to light my way.

So Many Firsts!

Those thoughts of what should I do with my life or the sadness I felt over the breakup were overshadowed by this all-encompassing fear and panic running through my body. I had never hiked in the dark, or alone for that matter, but here I was doing both and to top it all off, none of this was planned. I came to the realization that the fear did not help me, so, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other knowing that no matter what I will get somewhere.

Seeing the Light

It was at this moment things became clear! In the midst of the darkness; I saw the light. My life is a lot like hiking along this trail in the dark. I can only see what is right in front of me. Sure, there is the fear of the unknown, but that is just my mind making up stories. If I focus on taking one step, putting each foot in front of the other, I will get there.

After what seemed like an eternity, I made it back to my car! I just felt the joy rush in as my car came into view. It was almost midnight and just starting to rain. A nice couple staying in a motor home noticed me, asked if I was all right, and offered me some water. Not too many people out hiking at this time of the day. I was so grateful to them and to this experience.

My gut told me to go hiking and it was just the thing I needed to help change my perspective. That day opened my mind. I learned a valuable lesson and it didn’t come from a book, classroom, or video; it was my experience.

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

That day my teacher was my experience! To this day when faced with fear, panic, or other obstacles, I look for the one step I can take to move forward.

What Happened Next?

What happened after this experience? I ended up applying for and getting a position as an assistant swim coach at Vassar College. It wasn’t what I had planned but it was a step. This led to other steps, and over the past twenty years, I achieved the vision of becoming a professional swim coach.

It’s Your Turn

You never know where your teacher is so that is one of the many reasons to do new things! What is something you didn’t do because it seemed scary or didn’t make any sense? I’d love to hear about it the Facebook group #365FirstsChallenge.

Or are you feeling uninspired? Stuck or lost, not sure what to do with your life? Wanting to do something new but have no idea where to start? Start your journey of first times and new experiences by downloading the app and joining the group. We’re ready to encourage you.

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