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The Lessons We Don’t Realize We are Teaching

May 25, 2017

I know we must be getting close.

I was surprised. The young scout was the slowest hiker in our troop. We were completing a two day twelve mile hike in the beautiful Utah mountains. As the slowest leader, my role was to hike with the slowest group. We had two boys who were going to be the last out of the canyon. Alex, was a fairly strong hiker, but he had decided to match his pace to Kerry. Kerry was the slowest, but he was a victim of genetics. He was by far the smallest kid. And while his pack wasn’t abnormally heavy, he definitely had the highest pack/body weight ratio.

Kerry was determined, but this was an aggressive hike and a challenging trail. I’d been doing my best to encourage Kerry from the beginning. He was naturally an upbeat cheerful kid, but after miles and miles his enthusiasm was definitely lagging. Having hiked the trail before, I’d tried to help him look forward to upcoming milestones.

In another half mile or so the trail levels out. This is the hardest part.

There’s a bench that’s built into the canyon wall up ahead around one of these bends.

We’ll be out of the bare rocks and into a more forested area soon.

The spring where we will be having dinner is just up ahead. You can do it.

And so it went on the way up to our campsite on Friday. As we headed off the mountain on Saturday, it was the same thing in reverse. The problem was the canyon we were in had few unique features. It was two and a half miles of beautiful scenery. But, other than the small river that accompanied us, there were few breaks in the trees or the trail. I did the best I could to offer encouragement.

It’s all downhill.

We’ll be coming to a waterfall soon.

Ah, the waterfall. Not only was it the most obvious feature, it also was the two mile marker. Even though the trail is downhill it’s actually harder on your knees to hike downhill. My old knees had been complaining for miles. Even the boys were struggling at this point. I held out the promise of the waterfall for what felt like hours and miles. Each ripple in the stream garnered the same response.

Is that the waterfall?

You’ll know it when you see it.

Is THAT the waterfall?

You’ll know it when you see it. We’re gettting closer. Just about there.

It was the hiking equivalent of “Are we there yet?” But, I couldn’t get too upset with the boys. They weren’t complaining. They were just trying to gauge how much longer they had to push on. Which is why I was surprised when during one of our many breaks, Kerry announced,

I know we are close now.

Really? Why do you say that?

Because you just drank the last of your water.

Hiking in the desert, even next to a river, means you pay close attention to your water. It’s probably the most important lesson we teach the boys.

Do this wrong and you might die.

And it was true. Water is your first, second and hopefully not last thought when venturing into Utah’s backcountry. I had another pint or so of emergency water, but Kerry didn’t know that. He’d just watched me drink the last of my water and he knew that I wouldn’t go far in the wilderness without carrying water.

It made me realize how closely I’m watched. All the encouraging words in the world that “we’re almost there” didn’t count as much as the single example of drinking a mouthful of water. I thought about my aching knees. My tired shoulders and sore back. Had I complained about them? I didn’t think so. Perhaps this was part of the reason the boys themselves were willing to silently bear the stresses of trail. I hoped so.

We are always an example. What we say is important, but not as important as what we do.

We reached the waterfall about 10 minutes later. They knew it when they saw it.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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