The Hike as Metaphor

Image of an oak leaf on a background of snow.

#12hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve

One of the things I’ve written bit about is the role that solo hiking plays in life for me, but I haven’t ever really gone deeper on it. It’s personal. Sharing that internal dialog lays bare the internal struggles between doing what feels good and what is right – especially when those two parts of myself aren’t aligned.

My solo hikes are the place where I can take time to listen to my body and the thoughts spilling through my head. There is something about movement in solitude I find helps me come to clarity when I have internal struggles. Hiking helps me bring the better part of myself forward and leave the selfish self behind.

Photo of ruth holding her 52 Hike Challenge Adventure Series Patch with the sunshine behind her. She is standing in a wooded area.

This hike ended up showing me how trail conditions are such a good reminder of how to manage through life’s challenges. Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve is a park that, quite frankly, I’d avoided based on the descriptions by mountain biking friends who spoke with a bit of reverence and slight trepidation for its intense trails. Hard is the word I most often hear. While what Minnesotans define as intense challenge may be mild by the standards of those who come from mountainous regions, our state has its own forms of topographic diversity that can be physically humbling.

I’d had a challenging week prior and was itching for a hike somewhere new. As I scrolled through my options I happened to see the park name. For whatever reason I decided that the time had come to take the challenge and see what the park had to offer. It was a sunny day and in looking over the map, I was hopeful that I could spend several hours there with the goal of getting in a good six miles.

My on-the-fly route would be on the park’s snowshoeing trails. A misread of the map had me heading out on what I quickly realized were cross country ski trails. The warm afternoon sun was melting the grooming into a thick slush so I pressed on using the side of the groomed areas. I hoped to connect with a snowshoe trail in about two miles.

Heading into my hike I had some soul searching to do. I’ve been struggling with my passions pulling against my commitments – in family and work. None of it is simple. None of it easy. The thoughts floating in my head were all about hard decisions.

As I kept pushing forward through the slush, I realized that I’m in a place right now that feels like the trail felt. Steep uphill climbs. A leveling off into something manageable and then another climb. Over and over again a challenge to my desires is put squarely in front of me and I have the choice to rise to it or turn around and go home.

I thought about the role of caregiver and that it’s been so much a part of my life from the very beginning. As I child I was my mom’s extended reach, then when my brother was born I was a built in babysitter as I am more than a couple years older. The older I got the more responsibilities increased before I pushed back and asked for reprieve as a teen. Then after college I became a girlfriend, then wife. The next thing I knew I was a mom. In the last few years, prioritizing my mom’s final time so I could savor it as much as possible. Not a minute do I regret, but I also realized that I’ve been a caretaker in some way over all those years. And I still am in many ways.

But I also long for a change in scenery. A shift in my life from caregiver for a bit. It’s likely why I keep seeking out new trails rather than returning to familiar ones. It was what had brought me to this park so the park could remind me that there will always be those hills to climb. That not every climb offers the reward of a spectacular view, but sometimes it’s enough for the reward of the climb itself.

Women Who Hike patch held up with a snow covered hill and view in the distance. The day is sunny.

At the top of one particular section of trail that was becoming icy, as I considered that I might have to sit on my butt and slide down on the return, I turned to look behind me and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the Minnesota River valley and Minneapolis beyond it. There was a picnic bench nearby so I post-holed my way to it to sit in the bright, warm sun for a bit to take in the view.

I had more distance to cover as I’d yet to get the two miles to the snowshoe trail junction. In the spirit of my acceptance of the difficulty of the hike, I kept going. When I got to the junction I realized that, while I wasn’t going to cover the distance I’d planned it was ok. I turned to go back the way I came. And in that turn back I realized that sometimes you need to stop pushing uphill. That sometimes it’s ok to let the trail get the best of you and head for home.

Next Post Preview: I’ve got a big plan for my weekend and I’m hoping that I’ll get friends to join me. Check back to see what we’ve been up to!


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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