Last weekend I visited Traverse City with some friends. The trip brought back some feelings of sadness, because the last time I’d gone there was with my mother a few years ago. Seeing places we’d visited and walked made me really sad, and made me miss her even more (which I didn’t think was possible).
While I’d been to the city a handful of times before, something I’d never done before this trip different was hike the entirety of the sand dunes. I’d visited them many times. They are beautiful (after all, they were voted the most beautiful place in America). But I was never brave enough to travel all the way to the bottom.
I consider myself to be in decent shape. I usually take a lot of long walks throughout the week and at least once a week try to fit in a long-distance bike ride. A three-mile sandy hike on a beautifully warm and sunny day couldn’t be that bad, right? Wrong.
The way up was good. We were singing, dancing, smiling, laughing and having a great time.
Joking around, the morale was high. The further we got, however, the less fun there was to be had. We were getting tired. But we wanted to make it all the way to the bottom of all those big hills, so we kept going.
I didn’t bring shoes, which made for some pain in the hot and rocky spots on the trail. That was my first mistake. Blistered feet are bad enough, but imagine dragging open wounds through sand for four hours — not that fun. And the 24-ounce water bottle that seemed big enough for the journey did not end up sufficing hydration among the three of us. Finally reaching the bottom, we were greeted with a beautiful view of the lovely lake Michigan — crystal clear and filled with rocks. It was a nice view, and we enjoyed it for a little while — myself, procrastinating the hike back.
The walk back was a struggle. I finally got some bandages for my hurting feet from a kind group of hikers, but they didn’t last trudging through the dirt. I repeatedly took breaks and had to sit. I didn’t know if I was going to make it back. I really felt like giving up at moments. I was surrounded by peaceful, gorgeous nature, but the journey kept proving tougher. There was no way to avoid the walk, though. Hungry, sunburned and exhausted, we had to keep going. We had to get through it. There was no other option.
Sometimes in life, the journey is more fun and enjoyable than what’s on the other side of the road. We are always looking ahead, always planning for the future, thinking when we reach that next spot, we will finally find happiness. As a teenager and young adult, I was always looking to the future, future career things, families. I made a lot of plans, and didn’t always appreciate the moment. If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it would be to live in the moment a little more. A little planning is good, but you never know what’s going to happen, so it’s important to enjoy the good times when they are around.
The sand dune hike we took in Traverse City on this trip is parallel to what’s going on in my own life.
That journey reminded me so much of the grief process. It’s rough. You get those days when you feel sick, and sad, and weighed down by life. But there isn’t really any other choice other than to keep walking.
Not every day is going to be happy. There are plenty of days where getting up from the sandy hill you are laying on seems impossible. Blistered and scarred from the sadness, you feel stuck. You don’t smile, laugh or feel positive. But then sometime will happen to break through the devastation in your heart. If you push yourself, you’ll get through, but there’s a lot of struggle. Each time you think you’ve gotten over the final rough hill, you’re met with another one to climb.
This is the same in grief and life itself. It’s good to find people you can lean on. They make the journey a little less treacherous. But sometimes, you’re on your own, and you have to push yourself to keep going, because no matter how steep it might be, it’s up to you to get through each hill life throws at you. Nobody’s going to carry you through the hardship. You have to find it in yourself to keep walking. One way or another things will work out — not always for the better, but when you have no other choice, you just continue hiking on.