Finding Empowerment on the Wallace Lake Loop Trail

Finding Empowerment on the Wallace Lake Loop Trail
Wallace Lake panorama

In May 2020, when the state of Washington’s governor Jay Inslee reopened public hiking trails, my options were to hike alone with my dog Ajax, or hike with him and one person. Lucky for me, Ajax is a wonderful hiking partner, and the two of us have done dozens of hikes together during the past eighteen months, even if I couldn’t find a human companion.

However, I treasure those trips I take with a human buddy. Like all of my visits to the Woodland Park Zoo, I always learn something new from our conversations. On August 3, 2021, we joined a close friend and her dog to explore Wallace Lake loop, a nine-mile loop in a Washington State Park off US Highway 2. We headed upward along the wooded Greg Ball trail, a gently ascending path built in the memory of the gentleman who launched the trail maintenance program within the Washington Trails Association. This blog post highlights some of the topics of conversation we had about moving forward.

EMPOWERMENT

One of our topics inevitably turned to a discussion of my recently launched blog. I mentioned the term empowerment and how successes in one area of your life often bleed into others.

The evening I launched my blog, I received an email from a former client who was getting discouraged about some tough challenges. Remembering our tumultuous history, I could have deleted the message, but instead, I paused and thought about the confidence I’d gained during my recent success. Perhaps I could try something different.

And I did: I sent her some carefully thought-out suggestions for ideas she could think about with no strings attached. After all, if I could branch out in a new direction and launch a blog on my own, what else might I be able to do if I just tried?

Similarly, if you reflect on areas of your life that are working well, what are some of the skills you used to get there? What are some of the tasks you routinely do that others find useful, maybe even important? Is there some way to use those same skills and strengths in a different area of your life where you might not feel as satisfied (yet), in order to make progress?

Finding Empowerment on the Wallace Lake Loop Trail
Courtenay and her dog Ajax pause for some smooches in front of one of the Wallace Falls.

CREATIVE DISCOVERY THROUGH PLANTAR FASCIITIS

As we continued beyond the lake to the falls we’d visited months earlier in April, our conversation turned to another exercise I’d experienced during a horrendously debilitating case of plantar fasciitis years ago. Because it had hurt even to walk, I spent a lot of time that summer writing. I even tried a journaling technique that involved getting in touch with different parts of my body.

The voice of my brain was one color of ink, my heart, another; I used a third for my injured foot, a fourth for my inner critic, a fifth for my gut instincts, and a sixth for the sane, adult part of my brain which, when not stressed, remains in harmony with the rest of me. My task? To let each part of my body “talk” to one another on the page.

I laugh now because as the colors battled for time on the page, my sane, adult voice pretty remained silent until all the others had their say. My injured foot insisted, “I’m putting my foot down. No more exercising. I need rest. And if I have to shut the rest of you down to get it, so be it.”

Finding Empowerment on the Wallace Lake Loop Trail
One of my most memorable grizzly encounters, ever, on a hiking trail in Yellowstone National Park, June 2013. I was wearing a walking boot, healing from a horrible case of plantar fasciitis. Had I not been in a boot, we very likely would not have chosen that particular trail.

What I learned from that journal exchange was that the self-inflicted overuse injury was my body’s way of demanding recovery. Ever since, I’ve insisted that my athletes adhere to active recovery (or rest) days in their programs, even if they think daily hard training is the answer.

If you experience a physical limitation or injury or are dealing with something holding you back, consider asking the obstacle what role it is playing in your life.

Is there an addiction or bad habit you’d like to replace? While every habit or addiction is there for some reason, whenever you outgrow that reason, it’s time to look at how it served you and how another habit might work better for you.

If you can come to terms with whatever your block is trying to tell you, instead of getting mad at yourself because you are stuck, you might be able to start taking the necessary steps to move forward.

Finding Empowerment on the Wallace Lake Loop Trail
Wallace Falls in high flow, April 2021
Finding Empowerment on the Wallace Lake Loop Trail
Wallace Falls in low flow, August 2021

ROLE-PLAYING USING TWO EMPTY CHAIRS

Icky, sticky situations can provide challenges for anyone, but especially for those of us who tend to be more introverted. Another technique I’ve learned from various parenting classes is role-playing but by yourself. Whether you need to have a crucial conversation with a spouse or partner, address a child with some tough love, or talk to a friend or colleague about how you’re being treated, this technique may help.

Sit in a chair with another facing you, and state your side of the story to the empty chair as simply and concisely as you can. Take a deep breath and then switch to the opposite chair and try to imagine how the other person you want to address might react to your comments. What would their body language reveal? How would they look at you? What would their voice sound like? Really “listen” to what the other person might say or how they might react.

Then return to the first chair and respond. Bring up as many obstacles as possible so you can practice your reaction. Change up the dialog and situation until you feel better prepared for the unexpected. Like the multiple color pens exercise, this one allows the exploration of different options in a safe environment and can provide powerful insights.

Finding Empowerment on the Wallace Lake Loop Trail
Wallace Lake, accessible five miles from the trailhead at Wallace State Park

RIPPLE EFFECT

As we rejoined the masses of people (and their dogs) who were making their way upward to the lower, middle, and upper falls as we descended, I had a chance to contemplate the way conversations ripple outward to and through whoever is sharing information. If one of my hiking buddies or clients finds something that I say to be useful, I want to send it out to others.

If someone reading my blog finds the information to be helpful, they might share it with others. In that way, the thoughts I share in my small corner of the universe have the power to ripple outward, just like a stone in a puddle or pond. May the exercises suggested above move through you to invoke change and provide upward and forward momentum.

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

5 replies on “Finding Empowerment on the Wallace Lake Loop Trail”

  1. GO! is providing a great opportunity to tap into your extensive photo archives (thinking of you, grizzly bear). I appreciate viewing the images you selected to intersperse with your words. They give the post an added dimension.

    1. Thanks, Linda! Yes, I’m drawing heavily on my many years of photography, current interests, and all the writing I’ve studied along with my background in coaching. A really fun mix to explore. Appreciate the read and the comment.

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