I don't vacation well. For better or worse, the ideal "kick-back and relax," tends to involve two hands wrapped in my work, constantly moving, while checking off items on a never ending to-do list. Sitting still is incredibly difficult and spending my days without achieving a strong sense of accomplishment is tense and frustrating.
So I had mixed emotions as I traveled with my older brother, Joe, and his friend, Shuo, down to Tennessee's Smokey Mountains. Four days without a computer, without projects, without productivity. How? Why? What can I take away from this?
The photographs provided by my brother share a well-rounded representation of our experience in the mountains, but today I'm focusing on one particular event: Our hike up Mount Cammerer. An 11.1 mile round-trip exploration, full of steep hills, narrow pathways, and breathtaking views.
We started our climb bright and early. It was our second day in hiking boots and I could feel the stiffness in my legs and a few fresh blisters. Passing a limited number of like-minded travelers, it soon felt like we had the mountain to ourselves.
Very early on, one thing became crystal clear: We were going up. Unlike the day before, our trek around the mountainside wasn't a mixture of climbs and descents. With 3,045ft of elevation gain, it was fair to assume the day would continue to be an exhausting, thigh-burning trip into the clouds.
With no cellphone service inside the park, my iPhone 4S (yeah, 4S, what about it?) stayed put away, with a bottle of water favorably taking its place in my left hand. Disconnected from social media, and time for that matter, I continued to follow the path of the two ahead of me.
The day moved forward and it felt like our finish line had as well. I was blown away by the heights we had reached, but there was still no end in sight. My brain, with less distractions and "multi-tasking" taking place, started to dissect the hike as some odd, life-analogy. For some reason or another, I found those thoughts energizing and encouraging.
As I've stepped into this world of art and entrepreneurship, I've faced countless challenges and setbacks. From a burst pipe in my studio, to having numerous creative blocks, I wake up every morning with two problems to solve and three more on tomorrow's horizon. Though I do my best to pack correctly and plan accordingly, the day's list will never get done, and the weight of it all can be crippling. In addition to these hurdles, there is the constant reminder that life costs money, there are bills to pay, and there is no bi-weekly deposit in my bank account on Friday.
So as I traveled up the mountain, with exhaustion setting in, two words continued to ring in my head: Keep Moving. This simple phrase was telling me a truth that was as applicable to my life as it was our expedition. Despite the day-to-day stress and setbacks, continuing forward was the only option.
With a tree-covered trail, there was no clear finish line. Every time I thought we were about to reach the summit, we would take a corner and be presented with another steep elevation. It reminded me of the goals I've set for myself and how they continue to change and evolve. Our accomplishments are often short-lived and replaced by new and larger purposes. For those who are constantly driven to produce and create, it's foolish to believe we can reach a point of complete satisfaction.
And to be clear, this wasn't a trip up Mount Everest. There were people who reached the peak before us that morning and I'm sure several did after, and the connection to those who made the journey is a special moment to reflect on. No matter what your goal is, it's likely that someone before you has done it, and even more likely that someone after you will also. It reminded me that my journey isn't unique, isn't special, and that I am simply following the footsteps of millions of others who have set out to explore, create, and own their own businesses. Instead of sheltering ourselves behind a mask of individuality, it's important to find and embrace those who have shared in our struggles. To receive insights, opinions, and guidance, and be able to offer those same things to someone else.
When we finally did reach the summit, the view was incredible. I could see endless rows of mountains, one after another, so far removed from the place I call home. But to be honest, after taking a second to breathe it all in, everything quickly became diluted, as clouds, heavy winds, and the sounds of other voices began invading my "this is it" moment.
I started to think of the hours required to travel back down the mountain, fully knowing that the day's best view was behind us. Keep Moving. The trip down would be hard on the knees, heels, toes, and shins. Gravity wants to pull you down, and your tired skeleton is inclined to let it. But moving too quickly can lead to disaster, as the trail is still filled with the same tough roots and sharp rocks. Just because you've bested them once, it doesn't mean you won't face them again. Failure to stay determined and prepared can lead to a faulty slip, and that may change everything.
Overall, the trip was a welcomed get-away, full of memories and moments I'll look back on fondly. It was wonderful sharing that experience with my brother and seeing him thrive in his element. Also, it was great getting to know Shuo, who I may have not met otherwise. And it was nice to leave work for a while (a short while, thankfully) and reconnect with the dirt, sweat, and blisters I used to experience at a playful age, when life was much more simple.
And thankfully, we made it safely up and down the mountain, and every day will continue to be full of challenges. So just keep moving.