Last Thursday, Ajax and I started up the Old Si trail around 6:30 a.m. via the Little Si trailhead. I’d received some uplifting health news the day before, and I wanted to challenge myself beyond Squak, Cougar, and Tiger Mountains. This week, I explore how to find balance on the trail and in life against the backdrop of photos from the Old Si trail.

Our hiking route took us from the lower left corner (Little Si) around the Boulder Garden Loop Trail to the Old Si Trail and all the way to the Teneriffe Connector, where we turned around.
The ascent: our hiking route took us from the lower left corner (Little Si) around the Boulder Garden Loop Trail to the Old Si Trail and up to the Teneriffe Connector Trail, where we turned around.

The Old Si trail meanders through the Boulder Garden Loop before continuing steeply toward Si’s summit. The trail intersects with the “new” trail in two spots. It helps to pay attention to make sure you’re on the right path.

During the hike, two things stood out:

  • The absence of people: Very few people were hiking the Old Si trail. It was a beautiful midweek morning in April. Mt. Si is one of the most popular hikes near Seattle. Except for eight hikers going up as we descended, we had the upper mountain completely to ourselves.
  • The unrelenting steepness: Old Si has exposed root-filled sections and is steeper than I remember from the last time I hiked it a few years ago. It’s likely why people choose the longer, more gently graded, and newer Mt. Si route. Hikers who enjoy the steep old trail on Mailbox, or the Cable/Section trails on Tiger Mountain, would love it.
A particularly rooted and steep section of the Old Si trail reminded me of parts of trails to Mailbox and Rachel Lake. Such steep trails require that hikers repeatedly find balance, similar to life when faced with countless obstacles.
A particularly rooted and steep section of the Old Si trail reminded me of parts of trails to Mailbox and Rachel Lake. Such steep trails require that hikers repeatedly find balance, similar to life when faced with countless obstacles.

After forty-some years of hiking, I implicitly trust my bodily-kinesthetic and natural-environmental superpowers. (Identify your superpowers here.) Whenever the trail gets steep, I know to slow down, take a quick break if I need one, and have alternative plans ready in case anything goes wrong. Sometimes I even speed up to get a challenging part behind me.

When I am alone, which is almost always my goal, I trust my body, my dog Ajax, my physical preparation, and four decades of wilderness experience. The mountains are my happy place.

An author selfie with Mt. Rainier in the background, taken from the summit area on Mt. Si.
An author’s selfie with Mt. Rainier in the background, taken from the summit area on Mt. Si.

However, when I look at challenges in my life, I lack the same confidence. Recently my daily “steep ascents” have included: A new health diagnosis in January (jagged boulders). Subsequent changes to my diet and training (rooty section). Updating and launching two websites (a cliff). Scrambling to find trusted pet care right before a trip (mud). The logistics of starting a second business and finding new clients (another sheer cliff). Completing coaching hours for a national credential (thick thorny brush). Maintaining house chores and pet care duties while my husband coaches throws in the afternoons (slick pebbles). The list sometimes feels endless.

Pause for a moment to think about the obstacles in your path. What challenges are you facing? How do you face them? Do you avoid tasks or charge forward? Maybe you pause and approach with caution or race in the opposite direction. Or perhaps you ignore them and hope they’ll disappear. How might you face them that would be more loving toward yourself and productive?

On the trail, I confidently take the next step forward. In life, however, I sometimes become a deer in the headlights or an ostrich burying my head in the sand, neither of which is helpful. Such fight, flight, or freeze responses bring me to a halt until I find a way past feelings of overwhelm.

My analogy breaks down a little bit in that on a trail we usually have two choices: forward or back. In life, we have so many obstacles and challenges thrown at us that it might look a little like this sign covered in stickers. But the approach, TAKE THE NEXT STEP, still holds.
My analogy breaks down a little bit in that on a trail we usually have two choices: forward or back. In life, we have so many obstacles and challenges thrown at us that it might look a little like this sign covered in stickers. But the approach, TAKE THE NEXT STEP, still holds.

Here’s the tricky thing: Whenever I challenge myself to grow and try new things, as I’ve been doing since starting this blog in July 2021, I’m constantly exploring an ever-expanding world I no longer — or don’t yet — know. The trail seems to shift under my feet like quicksand. Day-to-day life is not predictable. Injuries, illnesses, job challenges, relationship issues — all these things place us in the middle of an overgrown path we’ve never traveled before.

So why do we expect that we can immediately solve our problems in such changing times? I’m trying to trust my innate wisdom and guidance like I already do experiences on the trail. Both require faith, endurance, and resilience. I’m also focusing on my superpowers — bodily-kinesthetic, natural-environmental, verbal-linguistic, and self-interior — rather than my shortcomings.

I help clients become aware of their skills, strengths, special talents, and superpowers so they can focus on and expand them, rather than getting down on themselves because of perceived weaknesses. If we concentrate on the negatives, we’ll always see more negatives. By concentrating on what we do WELL, we cultivate, grow, and see more good.

How to Find Balance on the Trail and in Life
The rocky Mt. Si “summit” includes a very steep scrambled block known as the Haystack, where I do not take Ajax. He likes the lower portion just fine.

At the two-hour mark, we spotted our first snow in a wooded patch right before we reached the rocky summit area. The rocks are where most people stop for a snack before heading down. Despite the steepness of the route, I felt pleased with our performance. Time to grab a snack and check out the views.

The parallel to life’s challenges is not lost on me: when we’re in the midst of struggle, we can lose sight of where we’re headed. But when we arrive at our destination and look back, we realize that although we might have been off target for much of the time, we eventually got where we wanted to go. Maybe not exactly as we expected, but the endurance and resilience we’ve built from other experiences have given us the fortitude to keep trying.

How to Find Balance on the Trail and in Life

The first view of Mt. Rainier due south stole my breath away. I grinned at the bands of lenticular clouds wisping across her flanks. I felt like calling hi to a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. A little farther along, we reached a pair of benches where I dropped my pack, got out some kibble and water for my dog Ajax, and had some cashews and a protein shake. We listened for chipmunks, jays, and other birds while admiring the views of North Bend and Puget Sound. I marveled at the miracle of having such a popular peak all to ourselves. Where is everyone, I asked myself.

A calm peace came over me as I tugged on a long-sleeved shirt and down jacket to ward off the inevitable chill of an April breeze. Hiking in the wilderness is as close to paradise as I can get. I remembered the fist-in-the-air elation I felt when I completed my 50th coaching session. Or when I received the good health news.

When our pet sitters agreed to host Ajax for a week of travel, or I landed some new clients, I felt similar satisfaction. But all the “life” examples rely on interactions with other people. With solo hiking, my results were completely under my power. Succeeding in the mountains gives me a way to find balance when I feel like things are overwhelming.

Anytime Ajax is sick, injured, or compromised in his care in some way, I face a huge obstacle. It's almost like having a sick child.
Anytime Ajax is sick, injured, or compromised in his care in some way, I face a huge obstacle. It’s almost like having a sick child.

In the words of my spiritual coach, Tama Kieves, abundance invites abundance. All the work, worry, and effort of taking one step in front of another paid off. Successes in life and hiking converged. A moment of peace, well deserved.

After our brief pause, we headed north toward the Mt. Teneriffe Connector trail to explore other vantage points, but the ice made it hard to find balance. I decided we’d save Teneriffe for another day and explore more in the Boulder Garden Loop. We turned back knowing the mountains would shed their snow in another month or so.

About 20 minutes past the snowy area, a group of 8 hikers under heavy packs slowly made their way up the steep trail. We stepped aside to let them pass. “You’re up here early,” one hiker said. Just the way I like it, I thought. Another woman told her companion that they’d go down the gentler Si trail so they wouldn’t have to suffer as much on the way down. She commented on how WHITE my dog was and I simply smiled, knowing how muddy he can get when the trail is covered in puddles instead of snow.

Beyond the main Si route toward Teneriffe, the trail is still covered with hard-packed snow and ice. Microspikes will help you find balance.
Beyond the main Si route toward Teneriffe, the trail is still covered with hard-packed snow and ice. Microspikes will help you find balance.

As we made our way down the trail, I listened intently for birds I might have missed on the way up. I shared things I’m grateful for with Ajax. When we reached the Boulder Garden Loop, I heard a purple finch. Having heard the same bird on our way up, I thought to myself, “I bet when I come down I’ll have to look him up again on Merlin.” Sure enough. Practice makes … better. Experience teaches us.

Some of the many skills I have cultivated in the mountains — such as route finding, layering, endurance, gear management, strength, and pacing — have parallels in life. To find balance in the mountains, we need to periodize our training program to include a mixture of easy and hard outings. Likewise in life, we need to have goals we know we can achieve as well as those that stretch us. The bite-sized achievements teach us how to keep striving for those goals that are more challenging.

The trail leading up to the north side of the Haystack, a pile of rock visible for miles around at the summit of Mt. Si.
The trail leading up to the north side of the Haystack, a pile of rock visible for miles around at the summit of Mt. Si.

Finding your way in the mountains is akin to knowing where you want to go in life (i.e. having a goal) as well as how to get there. If you want new clients, for example, you need to know who your target clients are, what they want, and how best to connect with them to cultivate a strong relationship.

Endurance on the trail means you have the physical stamina to get where you want. In life’s challenges, we need to cultivate emotional resilience and fortitude to endure tough situations while also being patient, gentle, and forgiving of ourselves.

Finally, related to pacing: if we charge forward without thinking things through, we may burn ourselves out before we reach our destination. Sometimes a cautious, slower approach to our goals is better than flying Mach 2 with our hair on fire.

Steep and challenging hikes provide a beautiful metaphor for the challenging portions of life’s journey. The more we can learn how to manage our stress, pace ourselves, and find balance among all our life roles, the more we can thrive during times of stress or ease. Whatever your challenge, you can overcome it.

Mossy boulder in the Boulder Garden Loop.
Mossy boulder in the Boulder Garden Loop.

What obstacles are you facing as you strive to find balance? Please share your comments so we can all help and learn from each other. If you would like to schedule a free 15-minute consultation with me to see how we might collaborate contact me at either Thrive Clues or Body Results.

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.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Great article. I am to hear you have great health news. šŸ«¶

    I always love hearing about your adventures with Ajax in the mountains. I feel it is your happy places. Great shots of Mt Rainierā€¦stunning mountain.
    We all have obstacles in our life. Spending time hiking in the mountains is how I handle my stress. If I can go hiking 2 to 3 times a week, I feel super good. I am still keeping in shape doing 2-3 time home gym exercises, and eating well. Always a challenge, however I keep doing it. Just DO It, then you feel better.

    Thanks again for sharing your adventures and great practices how to live a good life.

    1. Great to hear from you Silvie-Marie! Love having you back and commenting. “always a challenge” — righty-o. Life is one challenge after another. But some challenges are harder than others. Many would say hiking ten miles in a day or gaining 4000 feet of elevation would be beyond them, while publishing a book is “just the next step.” Challenges are different for everyone, but the way we APPROACH them can be systematic. One step at a time reminds me of the old joke, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Where we get overwhelmed is looking at the big picture. But focusing on the VERY NEXT STEP, whether it’s up a mountain or through a book publishing process or clearing a health problem — just take that next step. Cheers!