I’m focusing on my feet. My brown, dust covered boots, socks, ankles, and calves. I can take another step. And another step. I can breathe through the challenge of climbing with forty pounds on my back—the food, equipment, and clothing that I will need to sustain myself in the back country for nine days. If I look up, I’ll see the trail above me and the 1500 feet that I still need to climb — the switchbacks snaking up the mountainside to Lower Franklin Lake, nestled in a basin just below the Great Western Divide in the Southern Sierra. I’ll translate all of that into the hours and weight of the work ahead of me with the sun beating down on this shadeless mountainside as too much. I don’t look up. Instead I focus on what’s right in front of me. The next step I need to take and the step after that. The scree that I need to walk lightly on so that I don’t slide down the mountain. The boulder I need to go over or around. The beautiful, gnarled Jeffries pine clinging to life on this rocky slope.
I’ve been hiking for two hours. I’ve walked three miles and climbed a little over a thousand feet. I had the flu the week before and am going much slower than I normally would. My legs feel like lead and each breath is a struggle. Above me I can hear two of my hiking companions laughing. Normally I would be up there with them, leading the pack, but not today. My competitive self is frustrated, but I have to let that go and focus on each step. Each breath. If I want to make it to the top, I have to go slow. My slow since below me, stretched across what looks like half a mile, are the shapes of my other six companions snaking their way across the valley floor and up the side of the mountain. The last ones are at least an hour behind me. My tired body doesn’t want to continue, but I do continue because waiting at the top is our campsite, food, and water. One step at a time for another two and a half hours. Then I am at the lake. Dropping my pack. Resting against a rock. Over the next two hours, the rest of the group arrives.
We’d planned this trip months before. Mapping out a route. Getting our gear together. Getting in shape on practice hikes. Planning meals and shopping. And, here we are, our first night out together gathered around our camp stove making spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and shredded parmesan, exhausted, but happy. We are all experienced backpackers. We’d done this part of the Southern Sierra before, starting at the Mineral King trailhead. It’s a special place with high snow-covered peaks reflected on clear lakes, meadows and mountainsides carpeted with wildflowers, and abounding in wildlife—black bears, mule deer, marmots, and coyotes. And, for me, worth the hard work of climbing 3,000 feet in a day with 40 pounds on my back while recovering from the flu.
I get that same feeling when I’m in the middle of a product or company launch and things are tough. There are what feel like a thousand moving pieces and none are cooperating. There’s unrelenting momentum to go only one way—forward, but I know there’s a ton of hard work in front of us. Then I return to my backpacking motto. Make sure you have all the things you need to not only survive, but to make the trip enjoyable—things like moleskin, garlic, and good climbing partners. Map out a plan. Prepare for contingencies. Then take one step at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed by the mountain you need to climb. Keep moving. Breathe.