I recently spent 4 nights on the Appalachian Trail.  For those who don’t know, this is a journey along the east coast that goes from Georgia to Maine.  Some people take 4-6 months to walk the entire trail in one shot, while others do pieces and portions of it over time.

Getting a chance to spend 4 nights in the backcountry on the Appalachian Trail, here were my biggest takeaways:

Seeing myself have tremendous compassion for my partner

The Pennsylvania portion of the Appalachian Trail is known for its unruly rock scrambles. Add rain, intense heat, and novice hikers, and you have a recipe for injury and a fair bit of frustration. 

Within the first five miles, Yvette, my partner, was cursing the massive and jagged rocks as she worked to make it up a steep grade with a nearly forty pound pack. By the time we made it to our first campsite, Yvette had sizeable (and painful) blisters on the back of her heels. For whatever reason, the tape we had for blisters was not staying on her feet. 

The morning of our final hike of 11 miles, another hiker gave her some KT tape, which helped – for the first couple of miles. But between the rain and the sweat the tape wouldn’t stay in the right spot for protection. 

Six miles into the hike, I had gotten a bit ahead of Yvette, when my foot slipped on a massive rock and came down on my back. Thankfully, my backpack cushioned my fall (saving my hips, back, and head), but not before the rock stole a few layers of skin from my left hand. 

Shaken from the fall, and bleeding, I got myself off the rock and made my way a quarter of a mile further, to a spot with a view where I imagined I would see other hikers, who would hopefully have a first aid kit. 

Sure enough, at the view spot just five minutes up the trail, I found a small family with band aids and sterilizing wipes they were happy to share. Unfortunately, they didn’t have antibiotic cream. But I knew that Yvette did. So I sat and waited for her help.  

When you feel the weakest, it gives you the ability to be at your strongest.

A few minutes later, Yvette made it to the view spot. Clearly in a lot of pain and frustrated (probably because I had gotten too far ahead of her), she said– 

“Take what you need from my pack. I need to keep moving.”  

I assumed that she saw the gash in my hand, and was just in too much pain to help me. I gave her what she needed, took what I needed, and off she went. I carefully dressed my wound, ate some lunch, and then jumped back on the trail.

Hearing your inner voice and being able to transfer negative self-talk into something more productive. 

Rather than allow my brain to go down the “This-is-never-going-to-end,” or the “She-doesn’t-really-care-about-me,” internal monologue I felt coming on, I focused intently on each step I took. 

An hour later, when we reconnected, we were soaking our feet in a cold stream.  At that point, she finally saw my wound. “Did you fall or something?” she asked.

I was confused. Then I realized that she never even saw my wound. She had no idea I had been hurt. 

Sitting there on that log, with our feet in the ice cold water, we both chuckled a bit as we retraced our past two hours on the trail. In the midst of the pain and frustration we both got a chance to see our real strength. 

By the grace of God we finished that hike, and it only took a week or so to heal. Meanwhile, we walked away stronger, and with greater assurance in our own capabilities.

Misti Burmeister has been helping leaders boost engagement and productivity across generations for more than 15 years. Help your team reach its highest potential at https://MistiBurmeister.com