Some say that if you just stick to the trail, your journey will be easier. However, not all paths in life are smooth concrete with wide walkways free of debris and obstacles. Most trails - the ones worth taking - are rugged and narrow. They get windy and dark - yes, a bit scary.
The most meaningful paths are those we venture onto alone. But then we have this fear - the further we walk, the closer to the end we get, the scarier it becomes. That solitude, that absolute quietness that tells you you're alone on this journey. And, for some, for me, it can become too much to bear and even though our hearts want to keep going, our minds become increasingly fearful of every rustle, every movement out of the corner of our eyes, and every tree root that juts out along the trail - as if warning us to turn around and retreat.
Take this nature trail I visited this morning alone. The path started off bright and wide, but the further I went, the darker and rougher the terrain became. Every buzz, splash, and sway of the branches made my pulse go faster. And, while I desperately wanted to see where this path led me, I became frozen with fear and did something I said I wouldn't do - I turned back. I was paralyzed by the "what ifs." What if I fall and can't walk back? What if I get bitten by a poisonous snake? What if I'm not actually alone in these woods?
The truth is I was probably perfectly safe - after all, I was still on a designated trail, it just wasn't the one I was used to. I wanted to keep going and see where this path led me. Yet, for whatever reason, I couldn't do it. I couldn't take one step further. The whole way back I had mixed feelings of both relief and regret. It seems that all my decisions lately are met with these conflicting emotions.
After returning to the "safety" of the wide-open picnic area where the trail began, I stared back at the path I just came from - fittingly called the Eagle Trail - and I longed to have the courage to go back down it and see where it took me. Instead, I found an alternative trail called Hog Hammock - one with a less rough terrain, one where the tree canopy didn't quite shade the sun as much. One that wasn't so deserted - where the only thing I had to trip over was my own two feet. Sure, it proved to have its own challenges. The heat (from lack of shade) and mosquitoes were unbearable. Plus, the hike itself didn't take much effort or concentration which in turn dulled my other senses to the point where it became mundane.
While walking along the Hog Hammock Trail, I came to a fork in the path and I had to choose between staying on the main path or veering off. I stuck to the main path despite the fact that I could see in the distance the other way had the most beautiful lush, green grass.
I've been trained to not take risks.
However, in the end, when I returned to my car, I was able to look back on the adventure and truly say it was enjoyable and safe and relaxing. But, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that what I also noticed was that my eyes kept looking back down Eagle Trail - drawn to it and my heart was disappointed.
Maybe someday I'll return to this park, and I'll brave Eagle Trail on my own. Or, maybe my destiny is to always take Hog Hammock Trail - the friendlier, safer trail. Yes, maybe that's what I was meant to do.
Or maybe not........
The truth is we all have multiple paths to choose from. There will always be roads we travel down and ones, for a variety of reasons, we don't. But in the end, we are the ones who must be satisfied with our choices. We must embrace every step, every turn, and every dark corner. Otherwise, none of it will have been worth it.
This is not to say that there were no concerns on this easier trail, but they weren't as overpowering. The truth is I wasn't ready to tackle Eagle Trail on my own just yet.
There's a saying that more often people do not regret things they did; they regret the things they didn't do. No one wants to look back at their life and conclude they took the wrong path. The deeper issue is to choose your path for the right reasons, not out of fear or insecurity, but because you simply feel it is the best trail for you. It is also important to know that at any time, detours can be explored, and complete changes in course may be plotted. Acceptance of these possibilities will lead to a more peaceful life.
This post was written March 2015 after a hike in one of my favorite, local wilderness areas. I have since returned to Eagle Trail and have completed it on my own.