Do you see that picture? That was my pack for my first backpacking trip in 28 years. It weighed in at 70+ pounds – which is approximately 45 pounds heavier than my pack when I left to hike the Appalachian Trail years later. It was probably those 5! pairs of jeans that pushed it up and over any reasonable weight limit for a novice hiker to carry on their back. “It’s okay. I can handle a little pain.” Of course, that was the understatement of the year. Over that 21-day trip, I got lost too many times to count and I was wracked with pain and exhaustion as I gingerly crawled into my bed every night. I lost 9 toenails, gained 17 blisters, and destroyed two pairs of shoes. Still, it was one of the best times in my life and it radically changed the path for my future.
Hiking the Eifelsteig in Germany reawakened my love for the outdoors and showed me that I’m a lot stronger than I thought. I had recently suffered a nerve injury to my arm/hand which ended my career in nursing and cost me my identity. If I couldn’t be “Nurse Val” anymore, who was I? My self-esteem was at an all-time low and I had no direction. To make matters worse, we had just moved to a foreign country and I didn’t know anyone. I was lost.
Luckily, while walking my dog, I noticed a bunch of symbols on a sign. After some research, I discovered that they were all hiking trail symbols! That was the spark that ignited the fire. I dove into the internet and found the Eifelsteig. Two weeks later – just enough time to order a ton of gear – I was ready to go. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t in shape for backpacking, or that my guidebook was in a language that I didn’t read, speak, or understand, or that I had no idea what I was doing. I just went – and I loved it.
Thanks to that moment of bravery (with a touch of insanity), I had the courage to try other new things. I started mountain biking, canoeing, learning to speak German. I even found the courage to buy a business, and with the help of treasured friends and family, make it my own. I hadn’t realized that I’d placed so many limits on myself – until I started breaking through them.
Sometimes, when we push our limits – push past what we think we can do – we end up discovering a whole new part of ourselves. Although I’ll admit that my example is a little extreme, pushing your limits can really help you learn about yourself and see just how truly amazing you are and how much you have to offer. Maybe it’s time to start testing yours…