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Redefining Your Limits
Whether or not we consciously realize it, we all have perceived limitations for ourselves. Those limitations can be mental, physical, emotional, spiritual – any or all of the above. We create boundaries and become convinced we must stay within those boundaries in order to protect ourselves.
But what if those boundaries were the very thing keeping us from finding out how capable, strong, and powerful we really are?
A friend and I started out on early one morning, with the intent to see Lower Lena Lake in the Olympic National Park. It was going to be a short jaunt in the woods, we would be finished before noon, and we wouldn’t push ourselves too hard. It was to be the first step towards building up our skills to do a 30 mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail later in the Summer.
Lower Lena was 7.2 miles roundtrip, 1,200 feet of elevation gain – easy. Lena Lake had been on both of our bucket lists for quite a while, and it felt good to be going out and crossing it off. It was going to be the perfect outing. We were getting outside, seeing something we hadn’t seen before, and training for our big trip.
It was safe. It fit within our perceived boundaries. It was going to give us a sense of accomplishment without pushing us too far.
It only took us an hour and a half to get to Lena Lake. It was beautiful, and as usual, better than the pictures. But it was only 10:30am, and we felt really good, and it just didn’t seem right to head back to the car that early in the day. We’d driven an hour and a half to get to the trailhead. It just felt wrong to spend more time in the car than on the trail.
We wandered around the lake for a while, and somehow started tossing around the idea of Upper Lena Lake. Upper Lena was only about 3 miles up from the lower lake. We knew it was going to be quite a bit of elevation gain, but we couldn’t remember how much. And part of the wonder of being in the wilderness is that you don’t have constant access to the knowledge of Google, so if we decided to do it, we really had no way of actually knowing what we were getting into.
Upper Lena Lake was supposed to be even more stunning than Lower Lena. Even though it was mid-July, previous attempts by other hikers had been futile, due to snow levels, but we were pretty sure we’d seen a trip report that said the lake was finally accessible.
We decided to do it. We were already half way there. There really wasn’t a good reason not to.
So much for our perfectly planned little outing.
The haul to the upper lake felt rough. I hadn’t done that much elevation in one day in several years. I was just getting back into hiking shape for the summer after having taken the previous year off. My friend had never done that much mileage or that much elevation in one day. The biggest struggle was not knowing how much farther we had before we hit the lake. We felt like we were covering a lot more ground than we were. We just kept trudging, one step at a time.
We were pushing ourselves more than we had intended. And it was exhilarating.
The sense of accomplishment that overwhelmed us as we stood on the shores of Upper Lena Lake erased every ounce of discomfort that had been overwhelming us on the way up. We no longer remembered the steep parts of the trail, the bruises from climbing over logs, the sketchy river crossing. We were too overwhelmed with the sense of awe and wonder from the glory before us. We were the only ones at the lake. The combination of wilderness, solitude, and beauty resulted in satisfaction and gratification that can only be achieved from pushing yourself, facing your limitations, ignoring them, and rising above them.
Suddenly our short jaunt through the woods had become something so much greater. Suddenly we had not just pushed our boundaries, we had redefined them.
The trek to Upper Lena brought back memories of a through hike of The Enchantments in Washington’s Alpine Lake’s Wilderness I’d done with my husband and friend a few years prior. We started at Eight Mile Lake, hiked 4.2 miles back to our car, descending 1,548 feet. We ditched our packs, grabbed a day pack, drove to Stuart Lake Trailhead, and began the 18-mile trek through the Core Enchantments. The first 4 miles took us to Colchuck Lake, climbing 2,300 feet. From there we went up Assgard Pass, which gains another 2,100 feet in ¾ of a mile. We then had to descend 7,000 feet over the next 13 miles. We totaled out at a little over 22 miles, 4,400 feet of elevation gain, and a little more than 8,500 of elevation loss. We had started at about 3:30am and finished at 8:30pm. The most accurate way I can describe this hike was grueling. Absolutely grueling.
There is something surreal about pushing yourself like that. It is inarguable that you will be in fairly significant amounts of pain throughout a good portion of the journey. There comes a moment where you realize your legs are still moving, even though you don’t know how. Your mind tells your body that you must keep going, and that’s what you do. You keep going. You keep walking, despite how much it hurts. You just wrap your mind around the fact that you have no other option than to keep moving forward.
I very vividly remember the physical pain towards the end of The Enchantments. Every joint from my hips down felt like it was bone on bone. I was wondering if I even had any cartilage left in my knees; it sure didn’t feel like it. I was terrified to take my boots off because I was sure my feet were going to be raw and bloody. Each step was incredibly difficult, but we still moved quickly, trying to beat the sunset. The only option was to keep moving forward. That is the only option I gave myself. I told myself that I could always take one more step. One more step is always possible.
When you don’t allow yourself to have the option to give up or quit, you will be amazed with what you can accomplish. The thing about boundaries and comfort zones, is that they can inhibit us from reaching our potential. Pushing boundaries is how we grow. It’s how you grow as a person, as a hiker. You become my physically fit only through putting yourself through something that exceeds your current abilities within a certain comfort zone. You become mentally stronger by surviving situations that require more mental strength. You become emotionally stronger by pushing through fears and anxieties.
Rarely do we remember comfortable days. When I look back over my life and I remember the highlights, the greatest achievements, the mountaintops (literally and figuratively), I do not remember the days that were not accompanied with some amount of pain or discomfort. Too often we find ourselves avoiding things that are difficult because we think that is how we avoid pain. The reality is, though we might be avoiding momentary pain, we are also potentially avoiding the greatest joys and achievements that could have been attained. And mountaintops are accompanied by the greatest sense of accomplishment; accomplishment that can’t really be achieved any other way. When you’ve fought for something, struggled through something, hurt for something, bled and sweat for something, the value is so much greater. To this day, the through hike of The Enchantments is my absolute favorite hike, hands down. It is also the most excruciating hike I have ever been on, hands down. But when I look back at that hike and I remember the views, the baby mountain goats, the alpine lakes, the cascading waterfalls connecting the lakes, the views from the top of Assgard Pass, and that sense of accomplishment looking back and realizing what I had just done, the physical pain becomes trivial.
Wilderness has a way of breaking down walls. Challenging us, pushing us, trying to break us. But when we prevail, when we make it to that alpine lake or that mountain t0p, it gives us a transformational confidence. A confidence that you cannot get without pushing through a little discomfort. A confidence that renews your soul, and gives you a hunger for more.
When is the last time you redefined your limits?