lessons learned: push your limits

This post is part of the discussion series titled The Path to Healthy Living Through the Great Outdoors. The point of these topics is not for just me to just share them and move on, but rather to foster some discussion on these ideas and how they apply in "your" life. We're not sitting around the same table, but we can still have a discussion. Just leave your own thoughts in the comments below, or send them to me privately if you prefer. You'll find a complete list of all the topics at the end of this post.

If you don’t change, you won’t change. Change is uncomfortable, so get uncomfortable. That’s how you leave your mark.


There are many variations of this quote, but they’re all essentially the same. There will always be challenges; physical, mental, emotional. Often, at it’s core this is about learning new things. None of us were born just simply knowing what we need to do to be “successful”. We have to learn things, practice them. Do them over and over again.

Mailbox Peak is a bit of a legendary trail in Western Washington. The original trail is not technically difficult, the challenge is in how steep it is. You climb 4000 ft in just over 2 miles. And I set a goal for myself to do this to celebrate turning 50.

It was grueling. There were many stops along the way. I wasn’t in a race, I was just pushing myself to do something I’d never done before. There were times along the way I questioned why I was doing this. Why was I putting myself through this. It was not the first hike I’ve thought that, it wasn’t the last.

But then we got to the top, and we were rewarded with a wonderful, 360 degree view of the peaks around us. A group of friends had joined me on this endeavor, along the way they were encouraging and supportive. Once at the top they were with me to celebrate the accomplishment and sang happy birthday as we shared a refreshingly cold, adult beverage, and soaked in the view.

Tradition is to leave something in/on the titular mailbox of Mailbox Peak, I brought a small Spider-Man sticker just for the occasion.

As I mentioned, I’ve done other hikes where I wonder why I’m doing this to myself. And in the end, each time I find something about what I accomplished that made it worth it. Maybe it’s the view from a peak, a gorgeous waterfall, a still alpine lake, or just the sense of accomplishment I feel when I get done.

I started backpacking with earnest this year, and did a solo trip to Three Lakes in the Olympic National Forest. This was not the longest hike I have done, about 8 miles in to the Three Lakes area, then 8 miles out the next day. The elevation was not terrible, about 2500 feet of gain overall. But this trail was not a high traffic trail, and as such parts of it were obscured with dense vegetation. On top of that, much of it was rocky, or full of partially exposed tree roots, and cut into the side of slopes that meant there was a steep drop to one side of the trail.

On top of all that, there was a light rain that was coming and going throughout the trip. All of these factors combined to make for a much slower than usual pace for me. I got a late start, with the idea I would reach my destination about 6pm. Nearly the entire time I was questioning what I was doing. But then I would spot something that would make me stop and enjoy the moment. A large frog sitting on a log by the side of a creek crossing. A small waterfall. A quail protecting her chicks. Another slug. There were so many slugs along this hike, and I admit to having an odd fascination with them. Spotting a bear off on the other side of an alpine prairie.

It was well after dark by the time I reached the Three Lakes area. I actually over-shot my “destination” due to the darkness and in my attempt to find a suitable place to put up my hammock. I ended up not finding a suitable spot, and back-tracked about a mile and a half to go back to an area I knew would work out. I put up my fly and hammock in the dark, ate a protein bar for dinner and crawled in to my sleeping bag. Lingering thoughts of “why am I here?” still there as I fell asleep.

The next morning I awoke to this. The view of nature at the “foot of my bed”. The sound of the forest instead of an alarm clock.

The sight of the sun breaking through the morning fog as I broke camp is one of those things that helps erase all the doubts I may have as I’m navigating a rough trail, or gulping air after a steep climb. Pushing my limits offers such rewards. Sometimes it’s things we do solo, other times it’s with the support and encouragement of others.

There are so many ways to apply this in other areas. Reach out to others to join you as you find your favorite form of activity, or turn to professionals to help you get to the next level in whatever activity you do; a personal trainer, a coach, a mentor. Healthy eating begins with healthy cooking, but cooking is a learned skill. Take a class, invite others to join you. Mental and emotional health are important as well. Take time for yourself. Seek out professional help. Asking for help is often the toughest thing we can do, but the potential rewards are there.

Take risks, push your limits

This following is the complete list of topics that make up The Path to Healthy Living Through the Great Outdoors discussion topics. While these topics are listed as a sort of progression, they can be viewed/discussed in any order. Titles will get an active link as they are posted.

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