While out in the trail, it’s usually just me physically moving my feet and hands, but in my head, especially during and after certain difficult sections, thoughts naturally just pop in and sometimes they persist, like constant reminders.
I don’t travel or hike for the sake of ‘finding answers’ or seek stuff like self- growth. I do them purely for the love of doing them, and anything that comes along is a bonus. And I think I’ve gained much more(apart from toned legs lol) than I was initially seeking from hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
From the first time I did a long distance hike in New Zealand, one thing I realised about myself is that I am an ultra slow hiker but no matter what happens I always get there. I think I have good endurance, but also because I move really slowly, as compared to a normal person. I realised that I just like to do things on my own pace. And that is why I always have a great preference to do things by myself, with no compromises. At that point in time I felt that how I hike is pretty much how I endeavour to live my life.
On this particular hike, I had lots of thoughts in my head throughout the 10 days. But there are just a handful that I remember the most, and they somehow repeatedly lingered with me on the trail for most of the time.
Here they are.
Lesson #1: There ain’t no competition – On the Trail and in Life
On the TMB, I tried to wake up and leave early just like the rest of the people on the trail. We would start off together too, but somehow, they usually pass ahead of me because my pace was just slower (also because I was taking photos and videos quite a bit). I think, of all the people I met on the trail, it seemed like majority of the people were pretty tight on time, and I just had the feeling like most were just keen to keep moving to hit the rest stop for the day. I didn’t quite like the idea of hiking like that, plus I was also too tired most of the time to go fast or keep going without taking breaks. I felt sad and doubted myself thinking if I’m actually even fit enough to finish it. Sometimes when people caught up to me, the competitive side of me also didn’t like to be ‘overtaken’. Bad as I’d felt, I told myself not to have such negative thoughts because this isn’t a competition at all. We all reach the same stop every night, and it really doesn’t make any difference whether people arrive earlier than me.
At the beginning of the hike when I felt the need to always keep up with people’s pace, I also told myself I have to change my mentality a bit in order to truly enjoy the trail. Perhaps only for safety reasons on difficult sections, that I should then tail closely to others. This reminded me a lot of how I usually feel in my normal daily life back home, that I am constantly pressured to compare myself with other people of my age. And what I managed to see after this amazing trip, was that there is absolutely no need to compare with others. The only person I am ‘competing’ with in life is just truly, myself. We all live and die at the end of the day. How we live is really up to an individual. Things like, ‘What do I want to do, how do I do it, how long should I take to do it’ are entirely how to me and there is no need to constantly be ‘aware’ of societal standards.
I hate standards to begin with, and from doing the TMB, I got reminded again of how I should never forget to lead my own life.
Lesson #2: When things get really tough, learn to cope
Because that’s the only way to reach your goal. There were so many days out from the first day till the last that I was in pain. My legs were so tired after the first couple of days but this phrase kept appearing in my head, constantly.
There were barely any easy sections on the trail. But there were also barely any sections that were not worth working hard for. I truly wanted to finish the trail from start till end, without taking any long breaks in one town or even shortcuts (buses, trains etc). So I told myself to just cope with everything and get on every single day. It’s a simple thought to hold on to every day, and it was really worth it.
I think these 2 words are going to stay with me for a long while.
Lesson #3: Always choose to be Nice and genuine
I really loved the communal energy whenever I’m on trail. It’s as though everyone is family. There were so many things I did or felt on the trail that I normally wouldn’t be able to. Things like giving someone your snack when you’d wanted it for yourself, receiving a pair of socks as makeshift gloves because someone was worried your hands might fall off in the snow storm, knowing that someone was thinking about you at night and wondering if you could sleep well in the tent due to the rain, or knowing that someone is looking out and making sure you are safe and well on the trail.
I think being in pain together also kind of brings everyone closer. The energy was always good, despite what we were all experiencing on the trail. I think it is also because everything sort of becomes all about survival. And everyone is almost at the same level playing ground. Unlike being in a normal city, no money or material things can make anyone less tired or less cold or less hungry. Everyone felt the need to be taken care of, and also the need to take care of others. This is what I really enjoy about trail life, and everyone that I met on the trail were basically my guardian angels. Truly, I felt that people cared. We were all strangers but it was so easy to care for one another because our actions and words become basic, pure and genuine.
And I want to constantly remind myself that this is how I want to try to always be, no matter where I am.
Lesson #4: Let yourself be vulnerable, accept the kindness of others
Living in a city, my life is comfortable and I usually have all that I need. My impression of people in the city (and generally, the world) is generally that people are cold, self- centered and only care about themselves. And even if they do help, it’s because of self- interest and personal feel- good. However, being out in the trail did expose me to several instances of being vulnerable to nature(snowy slopes, snow storms, slippery ice/ waterfall crossings etc.). And it is only through being in need of help that I felt pure kindness from the people around me. I don’t know but it could be just that people on the trail are just an amazing bunch of angels. Or that I’m pure lucky to have met great people. But I feel that my own society needs greater human compassion and warmth. It would be a much better place to live in.
Lesson #5: Know your limits but also try stepping over it (sometimes literally)
After going through a difficult Day 1, I honestly never thought I could finish this trail. On the first evening I experienced altitude sickness and felt so miserable. I struggled to fall asleep with a terrible headache and actually planned to head to the nearest town the next day to catch a bus out and end the hike. Thankfully I recovered, but still, there were a couple of times my motivation was so low because the body was so drained. There were also several sketchy sections that I really wondered if I could go make it across because it really seemed impossible, and damn I didn’t want to fall off a mountain.
And I was glad to overcome all that hesitation, and saw so many amazing things.
Risky (and cheesy) as this sounds, but if I never try to go beyond my usual limit or way of doing things, I will never, ever know what I can achieve. So I will add this to my list of daily reminders, to always try and achieve greater things and not be easily feared. Ample preparation for the worst case scenario is definitely necessary (I love Plan Bs) but fear is sometimes the deal- breaker.
From this trip I also learned that as an individual, I dislike having limits or being stereotyped. Hence I figured that I have the tendency to try all kinds of things that people do not usually do. When people least expect me to do something, I will naturally feel compelled to act exactly on it. I can’t wait for more adventures ahead. This hike has compelled me to see and feel even more of the world around me. I can’t wait to be back with my trail family again.
Check out my other articles on the Tour du Mont Blanc: