Take the Hard Road
Why getting out of our comfort zone pays off
“There are two types of people in this world. Those who think they can and those who think they can’t. They are both right.”
Our family did a four-hour return hike up Cerro Verde volcano a few weeks ago. We had intended to hike an easier volcano, Santa Ana, but had arrived too late for the guided climb, so we opted to do the other, much harder one nearby. The guides didn’t recommend it for kids under 12, and mentioned that there could be poisonous snakes. Tom looked at me, questioningly. “We just drove two hours. We’re doing this!” I said, determined. Soon we began the long descent down (yes, down!) the first “mountain” we’d been on, which was mainly steps through a jungly hillside for an hour.
Once we got to the bottom, we rested for just a few minutes, grabbing a quick snack and some big gulps of water, before beginning the steep incline up the volcano. There were lots of loose rocks, and steep, narrow places between larger rocks. It was especially challenging for our youngest daughter who just turned four. Tom had to carry her a lot of the way, and get her to hang on tight. As we continued up, thick clouds began to roll in, covering the top of “el volcan.” Our guide at the back was continuously saying, “Come on, let’s go!” to anyone who wanted to slow down out of fatigue, including kids. As we neared the top, the incline got increasingly steep, and we had to be careful to follow our leading guide so as not to go off course, especially with the limited visibility.
Finally after about an hour of continuous climbing, we made it to the top. But unfortunately we couldn’t see much of anything, not even the volcano’s crater. Only a few nearby rocks were visible, and the 15 or so people we’d come with. The clouds were thick. We pulled out a few snacks and our water and sat down, relieved to have made it.
Then the rain started…and within a minute, it was torrential! We were suddenly very glad we’d grabbed our rain jackets at the last minute. It wasn’t overly rewarding to have put in all that effort and then to hardly get a view at the top…not to mention to be “punished” with rain. But we had done the hike—we made it to the top, and at that point, we told each of our girls how proud of them we were.
The way back wasn’t much easier, as we had a lot of steep decline over those loose rocks for an hour, and then back uphill through the jungle again for the last hour. Teija, our six-year-old, was exhausted for the last 45 minutes, and repeatedly told me, “Mommy, I can’t do this. I’m way too tired!” It was a great opportunity to talk to her about perseverance.
“You’ve got this, Teija! You’re going to be eating that delicious pupusa in just a little while…and you’ll be so thankful you finished this hike.” I also broke out into, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, hike a little longer…” whenever she suggested she wouldn’t live through the rest of it.
Sure enough, as we were enjoying our pupusas an hour later, she said to me, “I’m so glad I finished that hike. It was really hard, but it was worth it!” And a few minutes later she said, “Mommy, I didn’t give you a real high five after the hike, cuz I was too tired, so here’s a real one!” Smack! 😃
We hadn’t seen the top of the volcano at all before or during the hike because of all the clouds. But as the girls played at the playground after our late lunch, we could finally appreciate where we’d been. It was beautiful and so rewarding to finally see it. We are teaching our girls to value hard work and perseverance. Doing hard things makes us stronger and helps us to see what we’re capable of.
In the last few years, I’ve started to value daily exercise a lot more. It started small—five minutes a day, a few months after Annika was born in 2018. Soon I was hooked, doing more like 12-15 minutes each day, before waking up my girls for school. I wanted to feel more energetic and needed more upper body and abdominal strength. And what a difference after just a few weeks—carrying my baby in her heavy car seat suddenly wasn’t such a difficult task anymore! It was getting easier as the weeks went by. I was inspired to keep going. I started feeling happier and more motivated in other areas of my life too. HASFit (Heart and Soul Fitness) is one of my favourites for daily YouTube workouts. Here’s a quote I love from the middle of one of their sweaty workouts:
“The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow.”
There are people who take being fit to the extreme, and do 50 or even 100 mile races. I’m not saying we should all be (what I consider) crazy like that! But people who go walking, running, hiking, biking, swimming—or do any form of regular bodily activity—keep their hearts, lungs, muscles, and bones stronger and healthier. And that takes a ton of self-discipline, because we all know there are going to be days when we don’t feel like it, but afterwards we reap the rewards.
My goal-oriented husband encouraged me to start using a “habit-tracker” a couple years ago. I resisted at first, but decided to try it…and actually found it helps me keep doing the things that are important to me each day. Tracking my Spanish lessons, daily workouts or runs, social-media-free days, etc. has helped me be more motivated to keep doing those things on a regular basis.
Our family did a Spartan race last September, and even our older two girls took part in the kids’ one. For me this was a 5-km run, full of obstacles. Most of them were pretty difficult, like the belly crawl (for 50’) under barbed wire, climbing over a 10’ wall, and walking through waist-deep mud. Some of them, like climbing a 25’ rope—without any knots in it—I could barely even attempt to do. I made it about 5’ up before I had to do my 20 burpees as a penalty. It was a tough race, but having completed it made me feel a sense of, “If I can do that, I can do anything!” Our girls were covered in mud too, but ecstatic after completing their race!
None of us are going to have great days every day. Often I find myself thinking, “I really don’t feel like exercising or going for a run today.” Those are the days that deep down I know I need it the most. When I make my body move and my heart do some “cardio,” I end up with those spirit-lifting endorphins, and more energy—both things which make me feel so much better about my day.
I’ve been inspired by my hubby to do regular daily workouts, even when it’s hard or I don’t want to. He initially told me, “If you think you don’t have time, start with five minutes a day.” So, I’d set my alarm for just 10 minutes earlier, so I could shower too. Once a week, I’d reward myself with a “rest day.”
When it comes to a lot of things in life that we want to do, we may not feel like we’re inspired to do them. I’ve found that even with this blog. I almost always enjoy writing it, once I begin. But I don’t have that feeling of, “I just can’t wait to start writing,” every time I sit down. Usually starting is all that’s needed—a lot like how I just have to start running or doing a workout before feeling excited about it.
I asked Tom about his experiences with racing and exercise. He’s done the Iceman Challenge twice in Prince George, and many other races, including a 50-km mountain run with his sister and her fiancé up Mount Robson.
“You hit that point when you don’t want to go anymore. And you have to decide—even though my body doesn’t want to do this, I know deep down that I can push through. For my first Iceman in 2019, my first-ever long-distance race, it was -20C that day. I remember getting to the 5-km run after we’d already skied 8 km, run 10 km, and skated 5 km…and then you have to run another 5 km to the pool! During that run, I remember feeling like I was going to faint. I started looking at each telephone pole, and telling myself to just make it to the next pole. And when I broke it down like that, it didn’t seem so daunting. But I’d told myself I HAD to keep running—I couldn’t let myself walk. That was the goal I had set for myself beforehand.”
“I’ve just made it part of who I am that I exercise six days a week. It’s just what I do. Four years ago, when I decided I wanted to change my life, I set a minimum goal of exercising five minutes each day. Most days I’d do much more than that, but on those days when I was pressed for time, I’d just do some push-ups, burpees, and sit-ups before work. I made it so do-able, that there was never an excuse to not do it. And after a few months, it just became a repetition that was part of my life. Now it’s been four years. There’s still days where I don’t feel like it, but I just do it, because I know what my life was like before, and I don’t want to go back to that. So I never let myself miss two days in a row. And I’m always trying to find a race or challenge to train for, so I have a reason to push myself.”
We’ve been staying in a cute little mountain “cabaña” for the past few weeks. It’s an hour up narrow switchback roads from San Salvador. It’s so beautiful up here—jungle everywhere you look, with amazing bird of paradise flowers, noisy chirping birds to wake up to each day, all kinds of trees—eucalyptus, orange, lime, mango, banana…and the fresh, clean mountain air. We’re here in rainy season, so we try to get to the park or out for a run when it’s not a torrential downpour.
I headed out the other day, down a trail on a hillside planted with coffee trees, to where a creek runs below. After following the trail which crosses the little creek several times, I ran up another hillside full of coffee trees, their shiny leaves and big green berries bringing me joy. When I got back down to the creek, I found a trail up the opposite hillside and started up, thinking it was the way back.
Soon I realized that I was completely disoriented. I walked a ways and tried another trail, and then another, ending up at a long dirt road—definitely not our neighborhood! A few times I felt frustrated with myself, and realized since there were coffee and banana trees everywhere, I should have paid more attention to landmarks and the direction the creek was flowing. I even wondered a few times, “How long will it be til Tom comes to find me..?” I resorted to praying, “Please, God—let me find my way back to my family. I just want to go home.”
Then I saw a young guy with a machete (typical here) and asked him where “las casas como Suiza” were—our community here was designed by a Swiss guy. ‘Machete guy’ directed me to go up the opposite hillside. Wow—how off-course I was! He initially pointed up the wrong trail, but after following the creek a ways, I found the one I needed. When I finally did find my original trail, I realized there were obvious landmarks I’d forgotten about, like the giant water pipe coming out of the creek by the trail, and some big boulders along the creek. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t give up trying. Being lost in the jungle for an hour wasn’t awful, but I’d hate to know what it’s like for any longer than that!
In many ways, our culture has made being comfortable and pain-free into aspirations. Pushing past our feelings of “I just don’t feel like it” or “that can wait till tomorrow” can often be so hard. Finding inspiration sometimes only comes after the initial, “I’m doing this today no matter what!” Writing things down, so I can cross them off as I go, has always been helpful for me—and for many people I know—and has even been shown to give us a dopamine hit when we do! Doing the “tough” things today—whether it’s writing my blog, tackling a Spanish lesson, exercising, or connecting more deeply with my girls—will all pay off in the long-run.
As Jerzy Gregorek says:
“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”