A Trail To Remember…

…or, How I Almost Got Caught “With My Pants Down”!

With my Mt. Kilimanjaro departure only three weeks away now, I’ve stepped up hiking (no pun intended). I’m “out there” regularly, despite these unseasonable cold temperatures here in southern Ontario. Makes for great training for the summit day and, thankfully, also seems to make for good Working Wisdom fodder, too. Why? Because something always seems to happen on a hike….every time out! Something that always seems to have applications for other aspects of life, workwise or otherwise.

Take, for example, my hike of Sunday, December 5th. Because I was so cold last time I hiked Hockley Valley, on December 5th, when hiking this portion of Ontario’s world-famous Bruce Trail, again, I pretty much threw on every winter hiking garment I owned! For some strange reason we all compare notes before we start our hikes, while still in the parking lot. “I’ve got three layers on today”. “Oh, I only have two layers.” “I wore thin socks…I wore thick ones.” And so on. What I’ve come to realize is this: it doesn’t matter what, “the other guy” wears or does…it’s what works for you! And some people feel the cold more than others. That’s me. I find that ironic because of all those teenaged years I was a serious figure skating–that I skated around in a little skirt, thin stockings, oftentimes no gloves and hatless, in all those sub-zero arenas.

So it was another “Goldilocks” experiment for me once again on this hike. Would I be too warm or too cold? No. This time I ended up being “just right”, despite my four layers of leggings (long johns, light weight fleece spandex hiking pants, mid-weight waterproof hiking pants, a windbreak layer of shell pants and gaiters). And off we went…on what turned out to be our five hour, 20 K hike in -14 degree C (with wind chill) temps. All went well for the first hour or so.

At this point, I must digress. Three days earlier I talked with a man who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro earlier this year. It’s a modus operandi of mine, I’ve noticed, to take surveys and notes, and canvass for opinions of people who have subject-matter-expertise on this topic or that. For me, for these past six months, the topic top-of-mind has been climbing Kili. I’m starting to lose count how many people I’ve talked with since June (who have done the climb), but it must be at least ten. Let’s see, Michael, Hazel, Vicky, Cheryl, Mark, Mai, Sylvia, Judy, Delaney, Alison, Elaine and I think there are a couple more, too. Climbing Kili is getting popular. The gentleman from last Thursday’s conversation was now the second to mention that a fellow climber’s water hose froze on summit day (this is the hose attached to their CamelBak; “CamelBak” being the 3 Litre plastic bladder that sits inside one’s backpack, with a connecting hose that pokes out of the backpack at the shoulder and loops around to the front of one’s body, to reach one’s mouth via a nozzle, allowing for hands-free hydration). I listened intently and made a note to self: remember to bring a couple of pairs of thermal socks with the toes cut out, to wrap around the exposed length of my water hose (for having a stunted, or no, water supply on summit day is very, very bad news). But who would have thought I’d need it here…just one hour and fifteen minutes north of Toronto, in early December?

An hour into our hike, it happened. My water hose froze! Mildly panicked (for continued hydration is one of the many secrets to endurance and a clear head on long hikes), I sucked harder and harder, thinking that that inward force would dislodge the ice build up. No luck, at first, but then my warm breath did have an effect. First a couple of drops, then maybe a teaspoon, then full flow. Whew! But my anxiety continued, as I figured it would happen again. What to do? Answer: Keep drinking. Just as with house pipes you keep dripping a little, when fearful they’ll freeze, I figured if I kept drinking a teaspoon every minute or two my hose would keep flowing. It was a good idea, and it worked…until it didn’t. Another hour passed. Not even noon yet, and I seemed to have yet another blockage! How could that have happened, I kept drinking, didn’t I? Well it can happen easily enough when you’re so neurotic about your frozen water hose that you drink 2 Litres of water in less than two hours! I’d sucked that bladder dry.

Up until this day, I’d always returned home from hikes with water to spare, and so, since a 3Litre CamelBak is pretty heavy on one’s back, I’d taken to filling mine with only 2 litres. Mistake. Now I was O-U-T and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet! Well at least now I wouldn’t need to worry about a frozen hose. But what about a source of water for the afternoon? New note to self: Remember that extra bottle of water you took out of your backpack, to lighten your load? The one that’s in the back seat of your car right now? Well never do that again!

How many times do we all do that sort of thing…eliminate something, or throw something seemingly useless or unimportant away, e.g. an old document, an email, a letter, a book, particular notes, an outfit, a tool, etc., only to need it the very next day or week (or next hour, for that matter)?

Well I was so super-hydrated, thirst was not an issue for a while. But, of course, being “super-hydrated” meant, in short order, I had to super-void! Not wanting to hold up our bunch, and because lunchtime was only about 30 minutes off, I held on as long as possible but, consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Despite will-power and mind-over-matter, there comes a point for us all where we cannot focus on Maslow’s lofty higher plateaus of self-actualization, esteem needs, belongingness and love needs, nor even safety needs, when the biological/physiological ones insist on having their way. And so I held everyone up while I “took care of business”. Funny thing about that…three others were glad I spoke up, for they, too, needed to “go” and didn’t want to hold up the others, either! Reminds me of a Abilene Paradox (in reverse):

The Abilene Paradox was introduced by management expert Jerry B. Harvey, in his article, The Abilene Paradox and other Meditations on Management. The name of this phenomenon comes from an anecdote in the article Harvey shares to illustrate the paradox:

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.” The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted. One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored. The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip–they “went to Abilene”–when none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably at home, but dare not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

So when was the last time you, “went to Abilene” at work/with your work colleagues, family, friends or elsewhere in your life? Sooner or later we all periodically travel that unpleasant, dry road. Let’s hope it’s only on the “small stuff”, mostly, and not the really big or important “stuff” in life!

So back to the hike. After about 10K we lunched at the bottom of a lovely deep valley, well shielded from the cold and wind, and once again, the snowy forest scenery was Christmas card perfect. Onward for the second half of our hike, where we got a bit lost. Sometimes trail maps are tricky to read, but we never really fretted, for we knew that sooner or later something would look familiar, or we’d eventually bump up against a sign, and we’d be on track again. And if all else failed, we could always look for the sun (just kidding but, after lunch at least it does tell us where west is, provided it’s not snowing!). Because we’d gone off track a bit, the afternoon was wearing longer than expected (20K wasn’t really the plan). And because it was now December, many of our group had other places to go and people to see, post-trek, causing mild concern about our additional time on the trail. So, once again, I felt the need to stay “mum” and not ask everyone to wait for me while I made yet another pit stop (after all, 2 litres is a lot of water!). I held on as long as I could, until Dr. Maslow’s most basic of identified needs ruled again and I could barely take another step. By this point, some of us had chosen one route and some the other. There were just three in my group now. My two fellow hikers had evening commitments and were hurrying along at an impressive pace, considering we’d been at it for four hours. Isn’t it amazing what extra physical (and emotional) stores of energy we can find when the chips are down and the motivation high? They were pressed for time. I wasn’t.

When I could no longer stand it, I declared my need for a “pit stop”. I knew they’d feel obliged to wait for me but secretly feel they couldn’t afford the time. I knew the way out. I’d hiked this trail once before just two weeks ago. There was enough daylight still and so I begged them to carry on and leave me to myself…that I’d be fine, take care of my business and find my way along easily enough. Reluctantly they agreed. Off they scooted down a hill and around a bend, out of sigh, with the sound of their voices fading surprisingly fast. In only a few moments, I could no longer hear my friends.

Almost immediately I felt it. Alone. Alone in the forest. The wind was picking up and the daylight slipping, but still bright enough not to worry, for the moment at least. Never-the-less, it immediately occurred to me that this was the first time ever I was alone on a forest hiking trail and that, although the idea of that always sounded kind of romantic/poetic–so, “Jeremiah Johnson”…a 1972 Sydney Pollack Directed movie starting Robert Redford…about a mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit–the reality was different. I was scared, but didn’t want to admit it; sort of like whistling in a graveyard at midnight. Since my discomfort with my aloneness was brewing, I quickly looked for a discreet spot to yank down four pairs of pants, to get it over with. At first I thought I’d go far off the trail, to guarantee privacy, but then that seemed dangerous to me. Then I thought, “We haven’t seen another soul all day long. There’s no one else here today except us crazies. I won’t bump into anyone. Take a chance Nina…don’t go so far off the trail.” I listened to that voice, took my chances just off the trail’s edge, yanked down my first pants, then my second, then third and even the forth, and then my last layer, too-my goodness, it was like being a Babushka Nesting Doll! “Assumed the position” and then….”What was that???” The sound of two men’s voices coming closer! Can you believe it??? What were the odds? OMG! Was I going to be literally, “caught with my pants down”? Well you never saw anyone go as fast as I did in those few seconds. If this scene were a movie, it would have definitely appeared “fast-forwarded”! You know how high drama movies take you down to the very last second when, e.g. James Bond is defusing a bomb? Well that’s how it was for me. Up I pulled all five layers, composed myself for a split-second and around the corner these two men came, as I feigned looking for something in my backpack. Surprised, too, to see someone else on the trail, they politely greeted me, exchanged a few sentences of small talk and away they went. Fortunate and face-saving timing for us all, indeed. Is there a patron saint or guardian angel for women hikers? There just might be.

Okay, two little pieces of drama for Nina down from this hike, and surely no more to go. Funny, earlier in the hike, all was going so well I actually had the conscious thought, “Gee, if nothing eventful happens, what will I write about regarding this hike? Ha! Famous last thoughts, eh?

By now, the sunlight was dwindling evermore and I was back to my original thought, “I’m alone in the woods. Must hurry along now.” And so I did. Since “things” always seem to happen in threes, “I shoulda known one more thing might pop up. I thought I knew the way out, but I was wrong. I’d forgotten about a fork in the trail. A choice to be made. Although again a bit unnerved, I was amused and humoured enough to think: “This is so Robert Frost!”, and actually started to recite the first line of his classic and beautiful 1920 poem:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood (okay, this time a snowy wood!),

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Indeed, that is exactly what I did. Long I stood, looking down one way as far as I could and then the other. For no logical reason, I chose the path to the right. I walked several hundred feet in that direction and then began to doubt. I stopped. Looked around 360 degrees and turned back. Back to the fork and stood still a minute or so. Trying to use logic. Nothing brilliant came to mind. Then I went to the left several hundred feet. This felt even more wrong and so back to the right I went and traveled even further along than the first time, up over a hill, down into a valley and around a corner. And then I saw it: a huge boulder smack-dab in the middle of the path, which beautifully landmarked the trailhead. I remembered that! All was well, and with some daylight left, to boot! And there, on the other side of the road was one lovely-to-see, lonely car. Mine. I made it. What a relief! No big bad wolf, no lost in the wilderness, no broken bones for me. But, I think I’ll not do that again. Some things should be done at least “two-by-two”. Do you agree? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has hastily insisted on “going it alone”, when it was not truly a wise strategy. Ever done that at work??? On a project? Let others go on/go ahead without you because you were too embarrassed to ask for help, or to ask questions, or to ask them to wait for you, or because you were just too kind thinking of others to the determent of your own well being? Maybe not about your own physical health and safety, but what about your emotional wellbeing or professional reputation? Perhaps this last tale of mine is a good lesson???…to remember that being a “lone ranger”, and not subscribing to an, “all for one and one for all”, philosophy can get you in a potentially serious pickle every now and then (or at least cause you to be, “caught with your pants half or the whole way down”)!

So, my lessons learned, and working wisdom and wishes to share with you, based on these experiences, and especially noting this reflective and joyous December time of year:

  1. May all your ice be in your glasses or under your skates!
  2. May your “hot air” help get you out of difficult workplace and/or family situations.
  3. May you always wear enough “layers” to keep you insulated and protected from “the elements”, but not so many that you inhibit your success or relationships.
  4. May you always have a (Camel) back-up plan when things “run dry”.
  5. May you always pay attention to all of your needs, the most basic, as well as the lofty.
  6. May your trips to “Abilene” be few (and if you really must “go there”, occasionally, hurry home asap).
  7. When you choose the “Lone Ranger” approach at work or elsewhere, may it be at the proper time, for the proper reasons.
  8. May your Guardian Angel always be “on duty” and looking out for you when you take “stupid” chances or make hasty decisions that could so easily land you in trouble or danger.
  9. May you always win at “Beat the Clock!” And have your pants fully up when it’s “showtime”! Afterall, timing in life, is everything!
  10. May you take comfort in knowing you’re never really “alone” when you’re wandering in the metaphoric “woods” (and, no, I’m not talking about those two men who might come along from around the corner!).
  11. May you always trust your instincts and do what feels right for you.
  12. And may you at least one more time, if not many, enjoy experiencing, “The Road Not Taken” (after all, remember what Yogi Berra, former American Major League baseball player and manager once said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”).

And lastly…Lucky 13: May you have a wonderful, happy, restful and peaceful Christmastime break, and a healthy, prosperous and satisfying New Year…this is my wish for you, dear Working Wisdom reader.

I sincerely thank-you for your listening, loyalty, kind feedback and sharing through this past year and look forward to bringing you a 10th year of Working Wisdom in 2011, upon my return from Mt. Kilimanjaro on February 7th.

P.S. After that long, long hiking adventure on December 5th, let me tell you, heated car seats never felt so gooooood. So good I sang along to Beatle songs the whole way home. And if that doesn’t warm the (Rubber) Soul, nothin’ will!

P.P.S. As you probably know by now, I’m climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to help raise funds for a Women’s Leadership Centre (for Graduate Students’ Studies) on the campus of the African University in Nairobi. Our group of 16 is striving to raise $200,000, with my personal goal being $10,000. Currently I’ve just hit $5000 in pledges today, with three weeks to go. Many of my readers, colleagues, clients, etc. have already pledged and I’m grateful for all your contributions. If you, too, are inspired to encourage me and contribute to this worthy cause, and have strategically waited until year’s end to donate, please feel free now, in time to receive a tax receipt for your 2010 return:

http://www.canadahelps.org/GivingPages/GivingPage.aspx?gpID=8527


*** FYI: I’m writing the names of each of my pledgers on an extra large T-shirt, that I’ll wear atop my coat on summit day, January 26th. That way you can say I, “carried you on my back” and were “near to my heart” on that extra special top-o-the-world day!

Here’s a link to my MT. KILI TRAINING BLOG, if you’re interested in taking a peek/peak! And know that I’ll continue to blog each day, and send pictures, too, while on the actual climb January 20th – 29th. Pretty amazing, these modern days!:

https://ninaspencer.com/blog/index.cfm/Mount-Kilimanjaro-climb

* Visit the following sites if you wish to know more prior to donating:

http://negst-letter.rowbory.co.uk/2010/01/the-leah-ngini-community-center-a-heart-in-the-heart-of-africa/

http://www.wowsafaris.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=30

And, of course, remember Charitable Tax Receipts will be issued.

My heartfelt thanks for your pledge/consideration.

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