The Pacific Northwest offers some amazing hiking. This past summer, when the June gloom that Seattle is known for began to burn off, and the sun made its official initial summer-has-begun appearance right after the fourth of July, my husband and I began discussing summer plans. In the middle of tossing around ideas of what to do and where to go, we realized that for the past several summers, we had been so set on working hard to commit to the typical responsibilities of life (the ones we all have; family, careers, paying the bills) that we hadn’t taken much time to play. Yet here we were, year four into our move from the wilderness of the Arizona desert to the promised land of the emerald city, and we had enjoyed very little of the Eden-like setting surrounding us. And the promise of greener pastures had been a huge motivator for our move!
So, with a fist bump and a promise to one another that inspired our newly adopted mantra, Work hard, Play hard, we made a decision to be intentional in calendaring some summer adventure. Intentionality seemed to underscore everything else we committed to do; why not be intentional about play too? So we researched, planned, and calendared the heck out of our summer. Day trips. Weekend trips. Even spur-of-the-moment trips. It didn’t’ have to be elaborate or expensive, it just needed to have one key ingredient to make it onto our adventure list: exploration. If it involved exploring some new, uncharted Pacific Northwest territory, then we were all in.
Indeed, we found a nice balance and to be honest, it was one of the best summers I’ve had in a long time. It felt good. Work hard. Play hard. It was on one particular hike toward the end of our summer adventures that I experienced one of those sweet “aha” moments.
We were camping for the weekend near a picturesque little Bavarian town called Leavenworth, in central Washington. The weather had been less than ideal for camping; rainy and cold in fact, and our friends who had come with us decided to hit the road for home a bit earlier than planned because of the damp conditions. Camping isn’t as much fun when you’re cold! My husband and I balked too; should we pack up and head out early as well, and forego the hike we had planned? I had seen some stunning photos online of a lake that was about an 8-mile round trip trek from our campground. We waffled a bit longer, then decided to go for it; it was after all, our last adventure of the summer. Besides, we were Seattleites now, and a true Seattleite does not let a little rain stop them from enjoying the great outdoors. We learned this our first winter here, as we watched, flabbergasted, from the warmth and comfort of our living room window, as joggers, bikers, and dog-walkers, daily braved the rain. Tough crowd.
Armed with determination, some extra layers of clothing, and a backpack full of water and snacks, we set out for the Colchuck Lake trail. The air was crisp as we stomped through the green, and I gulped deep breaths of fresh pine, filling up my lungs. As we made our way through the twists and turns of the often rocky terrain, I relaxed into the climb and found my pace. We moved quickly, mostly in an effort to stay warm. The temperature had an upside too though; it created a mist that spun and danced around us as we gained altitude. It was magical. I felt as if we were climbing through the clouds, on a stairway to heaven.
About half way into our trek, we reached a fork in the road. A sign nailed to a tree announced a split in the trail that resulted in two choices. Colchuck Lake trail continued to the left, or we could go to the right, which led to another lake. We stood, scratching our heads. We hadn’t expected we would have to make a choice. There were two other hikers standing at the fork, conversing, and when they glanced our way, we asked if they knew anything about the two varying trails and lakes they each led to. “Do you want easier, or better?” one of the hikers asked.
We had been steadily gaining elevation for the past 30 minutes or so, and it was getting harder to breathe. It was also misting on us again, and getting colder. Easier was tempting. I looked at my husband and our eyes locked. I searched his face for his tolerance level – he was doing this hike more for me; he would have preferred to have been home watching a game about now. What can I say? The man loves me. “Better?” I tested, keeping my gaze fixed on his. He smiled resolutely, pointing to the left, “better”.
The next hour was intense. It was steep. Really steep. And rocky. I felt like I was picking my way through an abandoned quarry. Abandoned fit the trail too. We hadn’t seen many other hikers since we forked to the left. Where was everyone? The road less traveled comes to mind.
It will be worth it, I reminded myself, as I pulled up a mental visual of the online photos I had seen. When we finally reached the crest and descended into the valley, where the lake was nestled, I found a new surge of energy. Almost there. Practically jogging down the trail now, I stopped dead in my tracks a few minutes later as the lake emerged before me. I was greeted by a pool of the most beautiful emerald green water I had ever seen. The sunlight on it created the effect of sparkling jewels on the surface. Beautiful in the photos. Breathtaking in real time. For a moment, I couldn’t move. I was captivated.
As we sat on a rock high above the mesmerizing green water, munching on sandwiches and congratulating each other for making it to 5,500 feet elevation without collapsing, this thought entered my consciousness: Easier doesn’t mean better.
Hope whispers, better.
We would have missed one of the most spectacular sights I have seen thus far hiking the Pacific Northwest if we had taken the easy road. I sat with that for a bit and processed the thought as I perused the landscape. Easy is tempting because it’s…well, easier.
How many times do we miss the better things in life because we choose easier? The quick fix. The fast money. The free ride. The relationship with no strings attached. The easy way out. Easy lacks courage. Better builds confidence. Easier bypasses effort. Better demands discipline, and most of us don’t like discipline. But when we lack discipline, we fall into easy, which typically lacks value. Better produces growth and yields great reward.
I know I’ve chose easier over better too many times to count in my own life. I have regrets, and I’ve learned from them. Hopefully, those lessons will serve me when I have more choices to make. Take a moment to reflect in your own life when you’ve chosen easier and sacrificed better. How can you choose differently next time you’re faced with a fork in the road?
One final thought: Through both my own personal experiences, and walking alongside many others as they share their experiences with me in my work as a therapist, I have learned that God loves us all, and wants the best for us. God’s way works. And it’s usually not the easier way. But an amazing thing happens when we choose better over easier; at some point in the journey, the two trails intersect and better becomes easier.