Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What I Did This Summer: Hiking

When skills come easily for you, you don’t learn to push through the hard things.

You also learn to avoid anything that you aren’t naturally good at.

School was easy for me until one day in the fourth grade I ran into the brick wall that was long division. Two digits on the left of the little frame; four or more on the right. It didn’t make sense. Write a number on top, write another below--I couldn’t understand it, and I dissolved in tears.

I cried about everything back then, so that wasn’t so unusual. Facing a math concept I couldn’t immediately understand—that was something new. I would never advance another step in arithmetic, I thought. It would all stop right here at long division.

Dad was my teacher. He found my theatrics amusing but he wasn’t unkind. He had me stay in at recess and explained it further, and I began to understand. The numbers started cooperating—on top, multiply, down below, subtract, repeat. I recall going back outside in something of a daze. I had pushed through, and I wouldn’t be stuck at long division for the rest of my life after all.

Otherwise, I don’t recall running into an academic impasse again until 11th grade chemistry when I didn’t do so well on a quiz and slammed into the wall of needing to study for the class. Whoa. I couldn’t just slide through with a quick read on the bus.  I learned my lesson and did well in the class.

Pretty flowers to keep you reading this long prologue.
At the same time that I was breezing through most things academic, I was enduring the daily humiliation known as Phy.Ed. and the monthly tortures known as nursing home visitation with the church youth group, in which I perfected the art of air singing, hoping that everyone thought that that nice alto from Ruth Yoder to my left was actually from me.

I learned:
1.       I am good at academic and creative things, therefore I should choose those pursuits as much as possible.
2.       I am not athletic or musical, therefore I should avoid anything involving physical activity or music.

Fixed mindset, it’s called. It turns out to be a bad way to live life.

Growth mindset is a better way to live. You can learn to do things for which you lack natural talent. It takes planning, work, and slow, incremental steps rather than intuition and osmosis. It will take you longer than it will others, and you’ll have to work a lot harder. But you can both reach the same goal.

This is how I learned to have a growth mindset about hiking.

I’ve never been diagnosed with any physical limitation besides asthma, but I wonder if I have some strange malfunction in muscles or mitochondria, because I’ve always been slower and had less stamina than other women, and not only in Phy.Ed. One summer in Ontario, in one of those personal-growth exercises that missions like to inflict on their people at orientation, a bunch of us moms were dropped off three miles from camp and told to walk or run back. The other women, some significantly older and plumper than me, took off jogging. I dragged along alone, walking slowly, far behind the others, unsure if I would survive.

Most of the time, I've avoided situations that would highlight this unflattering truth about me.

A few years ago, as our son Ben began to go on more and more hikes, I slowly absorbed the truth that I am living in a beautiful state filled with breathtaking hiking trails, and I am sitting here in the Willamette Valley and walking down to the warehouse now and then.

It’s like if someone would pay for my dinner at Sizzler and I'd sit there among all those lavish buffets and eat a peanut butter sandwich I dug out of my purse.

A year ago in June, Ben said the mountain meadow flowers are at their peak, and I really ought to go with him to Horse Rock.

Ben the hiking expert who wants his mom to see the mountain meadow flowers.
When you only tackle tasks that come easily for you, you don’t learn to handle the humiliation of doing something badly, in front of others.

We were not far up the trail when I was already breathing noisily, stopping to rest, and turning red. It isn’t fun to look this pathetic when you’re with a bunch of teens and twentysomethings casually loping up the mountain like goats.

So I told begged commanded the others to go on without me.

I made it about halfway to the top, feeling triumphant but completely bushed.

I made a resolve: on my 56th birthday, I would make it all the way to Horse Rock.

Later that summer, the girls and I took a long walk at Shore Acres, near Bandon. They are all excellent walkers, as Miss Bingley said of Elizabeth Bennet, and once again I puffed along behind.

I had a double goal--Horse Rock and keeping up. When a skill doesn’t come naturally, you have to plan it out, step by step. I started timing my walks, starting with 10-minute slogs to the railroad tracks and back, then slowly increasing.

All winter, I walked on the treadmill in the laundry room, one of the most boring activities ever. I’m not savvy enough to do much with podcasts, plus there’s no wifi out there. So I listened to old Knox Brothers and polka cassettes. 

Eventually I’d walk a mile, varying my speed and the angle of the treadmill. I wasn’t terribly ambitious or consistent, but it usually got done, grudgingly. I wasn’t sure I was getting any stronger or faster.

Summer came. I went back outside for walks and even jogged for short distances, dripping hairpins on the asphalt with tiny clinks.

Eventually, I knew it was time to go hiking.

At the end of May, Amy and I took a Memorial Day morning hike up what I call Hostetlers’ Hill, a happy nearby jaunt through cow pastures and woods. I made it to the top—a lot more slowly than Amy, but she was gracious and patient. The important thing was that I made it happen.
Just after my birthday, Ben took us to Horse Rock and I made it all the way to the Rock that looks like a horse's mane on the bare hillside, and then on through the woods to look out over the valley. I can’t tell you how amazing that felt.
Exhausted but thrilled at Horse Rock.
View east from Horse Rock
At the Smucker reunion, I hiked down to the suspension bridge over Drift Creek. The trail starts at the parking area and goes steadily down for a long time, and I walked it with an increasing dread. I would have to come UP all that way! So while the agile people were still inspecting the falls, I slipped away and started start walking back up, pacing myself, hoping the others wouldn’t pass me as I huffed and puffed, or, worse, what if they waited for ages in the parking lot until I finally arrived?

Drift Creek Falls
I walked to the first little wooden bridge. So far so good. Then on to the funny corner with a fence beside it. Up and up. Still doing fine. Wow! But surely the hardest part was still to come. On to the little stream over the path. On to another bridge. Well, this wasn’t bad, but surely the UPpest part was still ahead, and the crowd of fast-paced young people was right on my heels, striding at twice my speed while carrying on conversations and laughing.

Then I heard a car door slam.  I had reached the parking lot. WHAT?!

I felt silly, but seriously! When did I get this good?

We climbed up Mary’s Peak in the Coast Range when Matt was home for a visit.
Mary's Peak. Left: wildflowers. Right: Matt and Amy
When we housesat for friends near Lincoln City, Amy and I hiked Cascade Head, past a garter snake, up endless steps, and through long furlongs of woods until we reached a meadow above the ocean with a view that was truly unbelievable.

It was hard. I wouldn’t have made it if Amy hadn’t kept saying, “You can do it, Mom! You’re strong!”
The views at Cascade Head are truly breathtaking.
Ben took us to Tire Mountain in the Cascades on a Sunday afternoon, where we waited for a shower to pass and debated whether or not to skip it and go home. We stayed, and the hike was long but gentle with the ups and generous with the views.
I was so proud of myself.
Magical path at Tire Mountain.
Earlier this month, the daughters and I took another trip to the southern coast for four days. We once again went to Shore Acres and took the long scenic walk. This time, I kept up with them. I don’t think they were slowing down for my sake.


Another day, we walked several miles to Blacklock Point. I stopped and admired the view while Amy and Jenny ventured out on that knife-sharp ridge of the point. I didn’t have the nerve to join them.
Near Blacklock Point
Two fearless daughters are out there in that circle I drew, which also represents a ring of guardian angels.
My hike still counted.

“You’re constantly reinventing yourself!” a woman told me recently. I took it as a compliment. I love the idea that this phase of life doesn’t need to mean settling into a placid routine that will continue for the next 40 years. I am free to change the things I don’t like and to learn the hard but new and valuable skills.

Stomping heavily down Powerline Road, being sporadic and not too consistent, dripping hairpins, staying home when the smoke and pollen were bad, marching determinedly on the treadmill, listening to hymns via the phone in my fanny pack, mouth-breathing and sweating, leaping like a startled rabbit when trucks suddenly passed—nothing about this process was pretty except for the sunsets and scenery.

I did it anyhow.

When I wrote a newspaper article on this subject and detailed how hard I found the “easy” hike to Horse Rock, I emailed a hiking-book author to ask permission to quote him. He replied, “I’m a little alarmed that you might need to get out walking more often.”

That was humbling. Maybe it was a taste of how the garage sale lady felt when I looked shocked that she couldn’t figure my total in her head, or when someone didn’t know that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and I was horrified.

There is still an inherent unfairness in the fact that if I slack off for a week, I immediately lose strength and stamina, while Ben can work in his office at Oregon State all week and then hike for many miles on the weekend without any problems.

But we are choosing Growth Mindset here. It’s ok if it’s harder for me and takes much longer. I can still do it. That door is open to us all.

If I can do this at my age, with my short legs and asthma and weakness, and wearing skirts and a head covering, I’m guessing that you can do whatever you’re not good at but long to do anyhow.

When you make it to the top of an Oregon mountain, the views are beyond describing, and whatever you went through to get there, it was worth it.

I feel like I’m at Sizzler, cutting into the best steaks and tasting the shrimp.

Maybe next I’ll learn how to sing.


  1. I love this! You sound like my mom.....I live far away from her now, in a Narrow-Mindset Community, by and large, and she still inspires me that way. I am well-settled into middle age, and Growth Mindset appeals to me more than ever, not the least is that my mom would waaay out do me if I didn’t get my act together! Stagnation may be safe.....but it slowly sucks the life out of you. Thanks for inspiring me!!

    1. "Stagnation may be safe..but it slowly sucks the life out of you."
      SO TRUE.

  2. You seriously crack me up. You and my mom should go hiking sometime!

    1. You do realize your mother would run circles around me all the way up the mountain. But we could find lots to talk about on the way.

  3. I'm so thankful for our children who stretch me and help me do hard things! Thank YOU for sharing this. I've always said, "I'm allergic to running!" although I do love walking and hiking, but have slowed down considerably with age. We all are naturally good at some things and other things come harder and more slowly, but being spirit children of a Heavenly Father we have the divine capacity to learn it all. I'm so glad you've been able to see the beauties that surround you! Surely that has been worth all the slogging away. You are such a dear woman and I wish I could go for a walk with you!

  4. Oh, I cried at long division too, and made a similar decision about sports. Even though I love hiking, there are other things I avoid (driving manual and setting mouse traps being among them), and your growth mindset is refreshing and inspiring to me!

    1. I hear you on the stick shift and mousetraps!

  5. I would like to go for a walk with you, too.. but I'd need a good winter of doing what you did and more before I could do it now. I remember the Hoey Road Hill at the end of HQ.. I no difficulty climbing that with hardly any increase in respirations in 'those days'

    1. As I recall, you and Alice were faithful walkers. And Kay and I used to walk together--I still miss that.

  6. This is so good. Funny, too! My current "hiking challenge" is learning to be an ER nurse. But I've had a few breathtaking moments when things click and it is so exciting when that happens! I'm proud of you you for being willing to change and grow. Growth and change are difficult but very rewarding.

    1. And I'm proud of you for learning to be an ER nurse. Sounds terrifying but worthwhile!

  7. I am impressed and inspired. Thank you for sharing. Love the pictures also.

  8. Oh, this is a wonderful post. Enjoy the buffet that is western Oregon.

  9. Dorcas you are one brave woman! I'm way too much of a wimp to hike like that but my oldest daughter Miranda loves it. As a matter of fact, as I'm typing this, she is on a hiking trip with a group of disadvantaged eighth graders who have never had the opportunity to go hiking and enjoy God's beauty and to know the love of God.

    Anyway, I'm in AZ and there are so many hiking trail near us and maybe, just maybe I will be inspired to hike the very easy trails.

    1. Please remember that it is 100% ok to start with short easy walks!

  10. As the mother of 2 dyslexic sons, I read this teary eyed. Just because something is hard doesn't mean we should give up. God alone knows how hard we try, how much a seemingly small achievement grew us on the inside.

    1. BLESS YOU and your sons. I've observed a little bit from my husband being a teacher, but I don't think people like me have a clue how hard some people work for the basic reading skills. As you say, God sees and knows.

  11. Math in general was the bane of my existence in school. I got through it with decent grades, but not without a lot wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sports were never my thing either, but I've always loved to walk outdoors.

    I had to curtail my walking a few years ago when I developed plantar fasciitis. I'm much better now, but still can't walk for more than a couple hours at a stretch. We are going to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons next summer and I'm determined to do as much hiking as I can handle. I ride an exercise bike to keep my stamina up, so hopefully my feet will cooperate on the trip.

    I love your growth mindset. So many things I still want to learn to do, but I get frustrated about the time it takes. I need to just learn to preserver.

    Shannon Combs

  12. This made me smile. I love how, at 56, you just assume 40 more years of life! I'm 63, and I sometimes have a hard time imagining 20 more...

    1. Yeah, I guess I do assume that! Probably since Mom was 93 when she passed, and Dad is pushing 102.

  13. Come hiking with me sometime. Maybe we'll sing on the way! I mean that totally seriously. And it would be great for you to tell my students about struggles and having to work hard. I tell them that every day, but a different voice...

  14. Cascade Head is super pretty! I went there a couple years ago for a Labor Day Weekend Youth Group Inivte in Silverton Oregon. They split everyone up and I hiked that same trail. When we for up there we sang “How Great Thou Art”. I would love to go back and hike it again.

  15. Huzzah! Good for you! I can totally relate because I have never been a good walker and now I have a terribly painful knee. We decided that we were tired of being grounded and bought me a lightweight mobility scooter that we can carry in the minivan and load and unload easily. It is quite wonderful to have the freedom of going anywhere it can go and I am past being embarrassed to be scooting around on it. Our kids are crazy hikers and marathon runners but we are happy to be rolling along with Hubby walking along side because he loves to walk.

  16. A "growth mindset" is a great philosophy. After years of home schooling I find myself needing to rediscover or reinvent who I am so I don't stagnate. Thanks for the encouragement.

  17. Ha ha, since it is apparently confession time, I had a similar experience in 4th grade, only with English - specifically, diagramming sentences. I didn't understand it at all and the only help I ever got from the teacher was being yelled at. So I just checked out...

    I decided it really didn't bother me much, except on those occasions when I heard other students talking about such things as adjectives and participles. But I decided that since I could read - and I read a lot - they must not be that important after all. So I just kept reading and life went on its merry way; book after book I enjoyed without the strain of trying to pick it apart and examining the intestines of every sentence.

    Occasionally, after I started high school a teacher would try to catch me up by giving a test on sentence structure... With all that reading however, I knew what sounded right and sailed through those somewhat trying times. The teachers even apparently got me mixed up with someone else and placed me in creative writing and AP English. So high school was going pretty well - until Latin class came along.

    There I was to hear those strange terms again: participles, conjunctions,dative cases and prepositions. But then I found the most amazing thing, memorization, and somehow made it through Latin without embarrassing myself too much.

    College first term English could have been a disaster - but the tests just asked you to pick out the sentence that was correct. I knew what sounded right so that went pretty well. My wife told me they would finally catch me my Senior year. The college I attended required all seniors to pass a basic English exam before being allowed to graduate.

    However, I was to get one last reprieve. Part way through my senior year they dropped the requirement. So here I am at 68 years of age, a college graduate and have never learned the English language - at least the part about blowing it up and naming the parts on the way down.

  18. I found your blog after I read your last "Letters from Harrisburg". Thank you for posting a link to your blog. Now I can "read you to my heart's content."