A couple of weeks ago I went hiking in the Shenandoah National Park.  That Saturday, I ended up hiking two different trails.  The first was up to Mary’s Rock (https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/virginia/marys-rock-via-appalachian-trail-north-approach) and the other was down to the Hazel Falls (https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/virginia/hazel-falls-and-caves).  Two very different hikes.  One up to a summit with beautiful views.  The other down to a set of small waterfalls and caves.  The differences made me think about life and how we approach things differently.  Allow me to explain.

I think the climb to the top of Mary’s Rock was very typical of our desire to work toward a goal and then enjoy it.  The climb took some effort (both hikes were rated as “Moderate”) but once I made it to the top I could enjoy the view and know that it was all downhill on the way back.  I liken this to many elements of life, perhaps easiest to associate is retirement planning.  You work hard, you save, you plan and all of it is supposed to allow a time when you can enjoy the view and have an easy way of life based on your earlier effort.

Many times we take this “front loading” approach to create delayed gratification.  We put in hard work and then sit back to enjoy it.  You can probably think of many times each day you take this approach.  You do yard work on a Saturday then sit on your porch with an adult beverage and look out over your accomplishment.  You work hard on a project to earn some carefree time in the evening.  Life is full of the ”work hard then enjoy” style of things.  

The flip side was the hike to the falls.  It was all downhill.  Well, downhill with some really narrow trail in places, some small creeks and mud to navigate.  But still, each step down made me realize that I would have to climb that much more to get back up.  I have done enough cycling to know that every downhill has an uphill if you are going to get back to where you started.  You can design a route to at least spread out the climbs or make them less steep but you still have to get back to net zero elevation.

The Hazel Falls were nice and very relaxing.  Sitting near the falls, listening to the water and watching the splash against the rocks was soothing and good for the soul.  But again, the joy of it all was somewhat negated by the awareness that I had to climb back out of there.  The last part down to the falls was a very steep, step like section that was tough to navigate down.  Climbing it was challenging and even though I am in good shape, I became winded pretty quickly.  Luckily the rest of the climb wasn’t as steep but going uphill for long stretches (after doing the Mary’s Rock hike earlier) was tiring.

So what elements of life are like the Falls hike?  When in life do we take it easy knowing that at some point we are going to have to face the climb?  I think there are many times when we can take the easy route knowing that our lack of effort now will result in more work later.  I think back to college and how procrastinating on a project or studying for a test causes this situation.  It is easy to procrastinate but there will be a reckoning of some sort later.  You either have to work twice as hard to catch up (the uphill climb) or suffer the consequences (not sure what the analogy to the Falls is for this – stay at the Falls and don’t go home?)  In life you don’t have to come back up, you can stay down but staying down typically comes with consequences that you have to be willing to accept.

I think there are those who like to take the downhill first in life.  Perhaps in their youth they are not thinking of what to do next, not planning a career, not looking ahead.  And then one day they wake up and realize while they were heading down to the Falls, others were climbing the mountain and are now enjoying the view.  It sounds a little like Heaven and Hell.  Religion generally teaches us a life of devotion leads to everlasting happiness while a life of serving one’s self will lead to eternal suffering.  Those are extremes when thinking of a career or a hike but they seem to carry a similar theme.

So obviously as parents we want to teach and encourage our kids to do the right thing.  That may be to guide them to climb the mountain and promote delayed gratification as a MO through life.  It may be to help them realize when they are headed down to the Falls that there will be a climb to recover.  Maybe they don’t want to go too far and make that return too hard.  Maybe we just share the tale of two trails and let them learn from both.  I would suggest taking your kids for a hike and let them see some great areas of nature, get some exercise and take on a climb or two.  Perhaps you can talk about life and even share an analogy of two trails.