I have a couple of confession to make. Just a few things that we should get out in the open right away, before you continue investing any more time in reading what I have to say. It’ll save us both some time!
1. I have no idea what I am doing with this blog!
If you are hoping for some high quality nuanced writing or some very niche useful tool, this might not be the place for you! I will probably ramble on for quite some time, playing with different formats and styles, until I figure it out. I’ll likely re-do the whole website several times while you are here. But, maybe if you stick with me on this journey, we’ll wind up somewhere really cool and totally unexpected together!
2. I don’t have my shit together! And, I swear. A lot.
In addition to not knowing what I am doing with this blog, I’m 33 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m still working through my childhood trauma. Still haven’t really figured out how to make friends as an adult. I don’t even have an inkling of a plan started for retirement. And I frequently still buy underwear instead of getting around to doing laundry. Hell, I don’t know if I can ever put together my own life, let alone provide any sort of content that will add value to anyone else’s!
But I do know that I want to try. I know that I’ve always learned best by teaching and I figure out a lot of stuff by talking it through or putting it down on paper. So that’s what I’m gonna try to do here, with you, if I haven’t lost you yet.
3. Even though I’ve done so many adventures, I still get easily frustrated and defeated when things go wrong.
And that’s really what I sat down to talk to you about today! I wanted to re-count my story of my last hike at Devil’s Lake and how I’m simultaneously ashamed and proud of my attitude and internal monologue throughout the day. Because things did NOT go as I planned and I got myself into (and out of) a really crappy, self-pitying mood on that 5 mile trek! And I feel like there’s an important lesson buried in there.
So, without further ado. Let’s set the scene!
Devil’s Lake State Park is the most popular park in Wisconsin. Located just Northwest of the state capitol, Madison, the park features a large glacial lake with bluffs on either side featuring tons of beautiful exposed quartzite. The park draws visitors for some of the best boating, rock climbing, camping, fishing, and hiking in the southern half of the state. There are around 30 miles of trail at the lake, with the most popular being the trails that head up and over the bluffs on either side of the lake. These trails are what brought me out there, of course!
My plan is to photograph the bluffs in all four seasons this year. Yes, I want to make a really cool stitched together video and photo collage, but mainly my goal is to get out and experience places in more seasons and learn to appreciate all the different weather in out state. I headed out to this spot just a few weeks ago to see it in spring and I made a series of mistakes in my plans that just set me up for frustration!
First off, know that it is a 2 hour drive from where I live over near South Milwaukee. I am the definition of a Morning Lark….I am up with the sun and ready to go! Coffee? Never touch the stuff! I just spring outta bed like a jack-in-the-box, ready to greet the day. I’m also pretty introverted and always hope to find solitude in nature. I get crabby when there are too many people around. This being a popular spot so far away, when I made my first trek out here in winter this year I left my apartment at around 5am to beat the crowds. But, this time, I wanted to bring my partner and spend some quality time together. We didn’t leave until after 9am.
We made it to the park no problem, but the parking lots were of course already starting to fill. NOT a good sign for my taste! We made it to the top of the first bluff, but made a wrong turn and it had started to rain. After sitting to rest and take in the view for a bit, I got up to move on. But my partner was flagging and told me he didn’t think he had it in him to do the whole trail. He insisted that I go on and finish the hike and that he would read his book at the car. This is the beginning of my shame spiral.
First though, here’s another pic. Cause honestly, I just realized this is going to be way longer of a post than it should be! But I am NOT going back to tighten the story. You made it this far with me. I’m gonna trust that you’ll keep going at this point!
Anyway. My shame spiral.
I did end up going on with the hike. I felt a lot of things about that. Guilt for going on when my boyfriend was clearly struggling. Maybe I should hike back down with him and we could go find something else to do together? But I selfishly wanted to continue. I wanted to get my pictures and I wanted to get some training in, since I’m planning a big hiking trip out to Colorado this summer. So I went on. But it’s a 5 mile hike and quite a trek up and down the bluffs. I wanted to get done as fast as I could so as not to leave him there alone for hours.
That caused me to start feeling a little resentful. I was rushing through this beautiful hike and not really getting the peaceful, replenishing experience I had hoped for. I wasn’t taking time to sit and enjoy the view or to take all the pictures I wanted. I was annoyed he came along when he knew it was a tough hike. He only made it up one bluff, and honestly only to the false top of that bluff! How frustrating! But that’s unfair of me too! He came to be with me, after all. And it is SUCH an important thing to know your limits out in nature! He was so kind to want me to still get my hike in, even if he couldn’t come along. That’s a whole day wasted for him, driving out the 2 hours and not even hiking! Why am I being so pissy?!
I made it to the far side of the bluff where all the really cool, picturesque scenes in the park are. And it was too people-y. Where I had the bluffs completely to myself when I came early morning last time, this time it was crawling with people. There was always someone in view and at every overlook there were at least 5-6 people around. I ended up completely skipping Devil’s Doorway, Balanced Rock, and the Potholes trails and just descending down the bluff. I regret that. Yes, I would have had to wait for my turn to take a picture. But it was beautiful out and I really wanted to see these features in spring! I just lost patience with people on the trail who were talking loudly, had unleashed dogs, wouldn’t move to let faster hikers pass, and were just generally in the way.
OK, last few pics to break up the text! And then I promise we are in the home stretch where I will actually make my point. I pinky swear, cross my heart and hope to die!
For reference, these pics are the trail down the far side of the east bluff which I’m hiking down at this point of the story.
So I make my way down the bluff and I am Ms. Cranky Pants. I am slipping on the wet rocks from the rain, my legs are starting to get tired from all the stairs, and I’m feeling like shit for being unreasonably upset about all the people and being rushed. When I reached the bottom I again just book it across the flat boardwalk and pavement around the lake and start the climb up the west bluff on the other side of the lake.
Somehow I manage to just get more cranky! There are actual buses down at this end of the lake, with groups of school children and several other big family groups out and about. It is MORE crowded on this bluff, which is usually not the case since all the iconic rock formations are on the other side. But I get surrounded by a large group who are walking in clusters at different paces and shouting through the woods back to their friends. I keep trying to let them all pass, but a cluster would always pause just ahead and I’d be in the middle of their groups again. We get to the top and I am President Cranky Pants now! There are fewer view points up here and their group decides to spread out over the first three and play Marco Polo together. They having a raucous good time!
I buzzed past and then began thinking about why I am so annoyed. What is it that is really irritating me? Is it really the loud hikers, the rain, the fact that my partner turned around? Or is it just the simple fact that things didn’t go the way I planned and I can’t handle that? That made me pause. I take pride in being a good planner. Always have. When I was young and super shy and awkward, it was one of the few things I was good at and honestly felt like one of the only things I could contribute to my “friend” groups. Without planning things and taking care of people, what use was I to them? Even now, I still never feel like I truly belong to any group I am in. But people can and do rely on me to make a plan! I hold things together. It’s what I do. So I often feel like I have to make it go perfect, or I won’t be needed or wanted anymore. I objectively know it isn’t true. I’ve developed some great relationships and learned to set boundaries. My people WILL still love me if I don’t get every detail right. But hey, I did already tell you that I don’t have my shit together and am still figuring out how friendship works! You were warned!
Realizing that I was feeling so cranky because of my plans not being perfect and thus feeling like I was a failure, was a game changer. I sat on an outcropping and practiced some gratitude.
✨ Gratitude for existing in this stunningly beautiful place.
✨ Gratitude that the rain had pretty much stopped and the weather was actually perfect for hiking. The dampness and overcast just made the forest and rocks even prettier!
✨ Gratitude for having such an amazing, unselfish partner who wanted me to enjoy my day, even if it had to be without him.
✨ Gratitude for my body getting me up and over all these rocks and roots.
✨ Gratitude for being in the presence of all these happy humans, who are out soaking up and appreciating nature, just like me.
✨ Gratitude for having come so far in my healing journey that I could recognize the true root of my problem and not just sweep it under the rug and blame anything and everything else.
I slowed down and finished my walk, stopping to take some more silly selfies and close-up shots of plants, like I normally do. I made it back and found my boyfriend, peacefully reading at a picnic table and happy to see me. Things went wrong and I got frustrated. But the day ended in a good place and I had an experience out on the trail. It reminds me of two unknown quotes I once wrote in my notebook:
“You can walk the same trail twice, but you’ll never take the same hike.”Unknown
“The trail is the same, but each time, you’re the one who’s different.Unknown
I’ve walked this walk before and will walk it many more times. I’m sure I’ll have more perfectly planned and executed days on this trail. But I am also equally sure that I am a different and better person now BECAUSE of this one imperfect hike and what it taught me about myself!