Tag Archives: Trek

Why Adversity is Good For You

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Hardship is underrated. Last night, while my husband watched Deadliest Catch and I tried to concentrate on reading in the next room, I was drawn to the melodrama of the television. A young man had “quit” the job of deckhand on the crab boat and spent the remainder of the ten day trip in his bunk watching movies while the rest of the staff slipped on the icy decks, hauled in crab pots and spouted expletives for the camera. I wasn’t impressed, but John was intrigued. “It’s just like a ski area,” he said. When the going gets tough, the weak fold. And the weak ones are usually the young ones.

I know what he meant.

Kurt Hahn, educator and founder of Outward Bound, believed in hands-on, challenging experiences as a means to build character. I worked for several summers at Outward Bound, teaching teenagers to face difficult trials in the mountains, and saw his philosophy perform wonders. The human spirit needs challenge in order to grow. We need hardship. When life gets tough, we rely on our past experiences for solace; we can tell ourselves “I’ve been through tough times before; I can make it through this.”

Sisters of Laya, Bhutan

More often in modern society, we blame others for hardship. Whole lawsuits are built on this phenomenon. Adversity is something to be avoided at all costs. But, as Kurt Hahn claimed, “there is more in you than you think”.

When we alleviate all our discomfort, looking always for the easy way, we fail to grow in important ways. Tough situations carve out a deep well in our psyche, to be filled later with growth and reassurance. We call this “depth of experience”, and without it we are shallow hot-house flowers that wilt at the first sign of heat.

When I visited Bhutan a few years ago,

Layap Children at Play

I was impressed by the hardiness of the people. What would take us Western trekkers three days to walk, the Bhutanese traveled in a day. Living in a rugged, high-alpine environment with only trails and yaks to carry their burdens, the children could still break out with heart-melting smiles at the prospect of a game of soccer. Hardship seemed to strengthen their joy, not diminish it.

This is even more important for kids, who thrive under challenge. As parents, it’s tempting to smooth over the rough edges of our kids’ lives. And while safety is always crucial, parents can do too much to save their kids from failure and hardship.

John recently told me that he doesn’t worry about physical pain anymore. When he was sick, he described his daily pain as 10 out of 10. Occasionally it would dip to a 9 or even an 8. An 8 was a very good day. This went on for the better part of a year. Pain meds didn’t help, and he refused to take serious drugs. He told himself he could get through it, and he did. Fifteen minutes at a time.

I, too, learned resilience and fortitude. These aren’t lessons anyone wants to learn, but you don’t have to wait until your husband is on his deathbed either. Small discomforts and daily challenges carve out deep trenches that we can later build foundations upon. It does us good to invoke challenge.

So go try something new. Work through a frustrating project. Practice patience when you want to walk away. Go camping in the rain (not too hard to do if you’re anywhere near Seattle this month). Give something up. Serve someone else.

How have little hardships helped you? What service have you performed or expedition have you endured that helped you later in life? What is your philosophy on adversity?

Trekking Bhutan

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Last year, John and I trekked through Bhutan.  I recently received an email from Phuentsho, the principal of the school in Laya (the second highest village in Bhutan at 12, 680 ft).  We had spent a rest day there, and Phuentsho gave us a tour of the school. 

Bhutanese children learn both Dzongkha, the native language, and English.  As we walked through the school, the children practiced their English on us, “Good Evening, Madam,” “Good Morning, Sir.”  “Would you like to play football?”

Laya is a remote village in the Himalayas.  Water comes from a stream, piped above ground to a few spigots spaced along the terraces, and heat comes from wood fires.  Layaps are considered wealthy since they are the only people allowed to forage for the rare mushrooms found only in their region.  However, the children do not have enough books.  The few dog-eared English books come from India, with stilted language and outdated diction. 

I asked Phuentsho if it was possible for me to send books to the children.  He smiled and said, “No problem.” 

“How would they get here?” I asked.

“By yak.”

When winter comes, most of the villagers hike the two or three day trek to Gasa, spending the coldest part of the year in the lower elevations.  Students take three months off school for “winter break”.   Phuentsho gave me his address in Gasa, and told me to send the books there, where he could arrange for the yak travel when he returned to Laya for the new school year in the spring. 

When I stood at the post office with my box of books many weeks later, the employee behind the counter squinted at the address.  It was simply, the Principal’s name, the town and the country.  Nothing else.  “What’s the last name?” She asked.

“That’s it,” I said.  “He only has one name.”

She shrugged.  “Suit yourself.”

I asked her to put a few extra wraps of packing tape across the top.  “It has to finish its journey on a yak.”

She raised her eyebrows, strapped several strips of tape across the box and handed me my receipt.

I wasn’t sure if the box would make it.  But Phuentsho recently emailed me to tell me it had.  The children loved the books and the pictures I sent.  Many of them have only seen their photographs on the camera’s digital displays of the tourists taking them.  Most Layaps do not have mirrors. 

Bhutan is the world’s youngest democracy.   A few years ago, the beloved King, Jigme Wangchuck, abdicated his throne, transferring power to his cabinet ministers in preparation of the first election in 2008.  Now is the time to see this amazing country as it opens and changes. 

You must have a local guide service.  We used International Mountain Guides www.mountainguides.com, and they were fabulous.  I also met Tshering Tobgay, a government minister and wonderful host (he sent a box of wine, cheese and chocolate to our trekking group on the trail, it arrived by yak).  His wife has started a guide company, Tergo Travels, www.tergotravels.com/.