Hiking — It’s about the Journey

A few weeks ago, rideOS organized a team-building event — a hike at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin, California. When I saw the email, I had pretty mixed feelings. I love team-building events, but hiking isn’t my forte. This hike was supposed to be around 3 miles, which probably isn’t a long hike in general, but it sounded really long to me. The last time I went on a “real” hike, it was over ten years ago! Funnily enough, this team-building hike ended up being somewhat like my hike ten years ago, as you’ll soon see.

Ten years ago, my friends invited my spouse and I to a “family-friendly hike” at Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania. We were delighted and very interested to go, and thought that we would be able to manage a family-friendly hike. When we arrived at the hiking area, we noticed that the kids looked pretty seasoned — they were wearing what looked like hiking clothes, and at least one of the children was looking for big branches that had fallen, to use as a walking stick. Still, I thought that it was probably just something fun the kids did, and the hike was going to be easy.

Turns out, the hike was not easy. Granted, we stayed near the front of the pack, which may not have been a great idea, since the person leading the hike was very fit and kept a pretty quick pace, in my opinion. We spoke to some friends after the hike, and they enjoyed the hike a lot more, since they were strolling at the back of the pack at a leisurely pace. It also didn’t help that the hike leaders went, by accident, on a longer hike than was originally planned. Overall though, we did see the beautiful Fall colors and went close to a river.

After that hike, we didn’t go on any other hikes for a long time, at least nothing more than a mile long. Our friends also stopped inviting us to their hikes, which we didn’t mind at all. So, that leads back to that team-building event recently.

I was pretty hesitant about participating in the hike, due to the experience described above. Still, I wanted to be a part of the team, so I decided to go. I figured that it was a company hike, so they would have picked a relatively easy hike! I didn’t have hiking clothes, so I opted for the closest I could find in my wardrobe. Shoes were a little trickier, and I only had flats to walk with. Again, I thought it wouldn’t be an issue. I put on an extra thick layer of moisturizer and sunscreen in case it was going to be sunny that day. I even brought my glasses, which double as sunglasses, that I don’t usually wear.

We set off from the office, and one of my colleagues brought her dog, Momo, who was absolutely a delight. I went from feeling a little unsure about the hike to being pretty excited about it, since I’d get to walk along with Momo. Along the way, we were provided some breakfast bagels, croissants, and drinks. The drinks were canned coffee, and for some reason, I thought they were cans of beer, which I declined. One of my colleagues joked that the fact that I’d thought the cans were of beer reflected something about the company, and I smiled. I almost never drink alcohol, but I’ve not felt any pressure to do so at any company event. I opted for a croissant, even though I’d already had breakfast at home, since I figured that the hike was going to require extra energy compared to my usual sedentary day in front of the computer.

We arrived at the hiking area and had a short restroom break before we headed out for the hike. I was pretty energetic and excited at this point, since I love nature and taking photos of beautiful scenery and such.

Getting ready for the big hike.

And then we were off. Almost immediately, we saw a cloud of dust in front of us. I joked to a colleague that if we were in a horror movie, it would be a bad idea to go through the cloud, and we should head the opposite direction from it. Luckily, in this case, it was an excavator doing something to the road.

In a horror film, don’t head towards large unknown clouds.

We kept going, and arrived at a fork in the road, and a map of the trails. They had already planned a route (the 3 mile route mentioned in the email), and were checking the map. Once they were confident of the path, we went onwards! Until the next sign on the road.

Checking to make sure we were still on the right trail.

At this point, I was still feeling pretty energetic and good about the hike. There were lots of pretty flowers along the way, and I started taking photos of them. After each photo, I had to make a slight jog to catch up with the group, and soon afterwards, I’d stop again to take another photo.

Some of the flowers I saw along the way.

I believe that a hike is not about getting to the destination, but enjoying the journey, and the scenery along the way. A colleague commented, when I caught up to the group again, that there are lots of beautiful flowers in California, but perhaps the rest of them had already gotten so used to them that they no longer noticed it. I’m glad I appreciated the beauty of the flowers. However, the squatting, snapping a photo, then jogging back to the group was taking a toll on me.

A more tired smile for the selfie.

And now we had arrived at an uphill section of the hike, and I was too tired to try to jog to catch up to the group. Some of my colleagues slowed down their pace to walk with me. I felt bad that they had to slow down to walk with me, but I was very grateful that they did, so I wouldn’t be left behind.

Some of my colleagues as they walked up the slope and then waited for me.
The selfie, or we-fie, we took after I caught up with them at the top of that slope.

I stopped taking photos of flowers, for a few reasons. Firstly, I didn’t want to further slow down this group of colleagues who had already slowed down for me. Secondly, I wasn’t sure I had enough energy to squat down and stand up any more. Thirdly, there was a lot more uphill to this hike, so I needed to save all the energy I could.

The rest of the hiking group, further on ahead and further uphill.

At some point, the group in front decided to stop and wait for us to catch up, which was nice of them. But once we did, they started on again, so I didn’t get too much time to catch my breath. I started to fall behind again, partly because I stopped to take a few more photos, like a bird and a beetle going about their day.

A bird and a beetle, not to scale.

At this point, I was pretty exhausted, so I didn’t try to catch up with the group. I just walked at a pace that I could manage, and figured that I could catch up with them eventually, even if only at the end of the hike. And the hike could not possibly go uphill all the way, could it?

Pretty exhausted selfie.

I wasn’t sure where we were headed exactly, but someone had mentioned a beach, so when I took the photo above, I was astonished that we had only walked one mile at this point. Many thoughts ran through my mind, and the topmost thought was that I’d only done ⅓ of the hike so far. Turns out, that wasn’t entirely accurate. I found out later that we had gone on a longer and more difficult trail than originally planned.

Finally, we reached the top of the hike, or so it seemed at the time. The trail started going downhill, and I was initially pretty happy about that. Then I realized that going downhill on a hike isn’t easier than going uphill — each has its own challenges. Going downhill required a lot more careful footing and controlled steps to ensure I maintained my balance (remember I was wearing flats), and even so, I slipped a few times. Luckily, I mostly caught my balance each time and didn’t fall, much. At one point, I was so upset. With myself for being unfit. With the hike being tougher than it had been advertised. With the event being a hike in the first place. By this time, I was not only breathless, but also starting to feel faint and slightly dizzy. I was almost in tears, but I told myself that if I had energy to cry, then I had energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other to keep going.

After going downhill for some time, the rest of the group had stopped ahead, presumably waiting for us, but the couple of people with me said there was no urgency for us to catch up with them, and I could take as much time as I needed. I think this was the time that I plopped down on the ground to take a break. I’d tried my best not to sit on the ground since I didn’t want to dirty my leggings, but at that point I was so exhausted that I didn’t care about having to wash my leggings afterwards.

There was a slight reshuffle in the people accompanying me, as some went to join the group ahead, and some came behind to walk with me. Again, they emphasized that I could rest as long as I wanted. They said we could also head back to the starting point, and the shuttle bus that had brought us from the office could meet us at the starting point and bring us to the destination. It sounded extremely tempting to do so. However, my colleagues mentioned that at this point, we were slightly over halfway with the hike. Halfway? I was pretty devastated to hear that. I’d figured that we would be mostly done with the hike by now. They suggested that going backwards may be slightly easier since it would be more downhill than up, and it’d be through the path we already came from. However, I figured that since I was already halfway done, it didn’t really matter which way we went, and I’d might as well finish the hike, and get that sense of accomplishment. My colleagues were very encouraging and supportive, and said that there was no pressure and they’d be happy to do whatever I chose. I was extremely touched by their sincerity and support.

After more resting, I finally stood up and got ready to continue on the hike. The group ahead of us had continued on the hike, and our group would follow my pace. One of my colleagues even offered to hold my water bottle and phone if I desired, but I joked that if I fell off the edge of the hike, which led to the cliffs below, I’d need the phone to call for help, and water to survive for a bit. Another colleague offered to hold my hand as we walked downhill, but I was adamant about walking through the hike myself physically. Their emotional support definitely helped a lot though. We got to where the first group had stopped, and one of my colleagues took a photo for me.

Feeling better, near the trail down to the Pirate’s Cove.

I was feeling a lot better overall, both physically and emotionally. So, I started taking more photos again. I saw a leaf-thing that reminded me of a snail’s shell, and I wondered if a snail’s shell is meant to look like that leaf. I also saw some plants that were covered in a bubbly foam, and I was extremely curious what it was. It was over a number of plants in an area. I did some Googling afterwards, and my hypothesis is that the foam was from spittlebugs.

Some interesting plants along the way.

I joked to one of my colleagues that the fact that I was taking photos again showed that I was feeling much better. We even managed to have an intellectual discussion about whether end-to-end machine learning of self-driving was feasible, among other things. This phase of the hike was much better, since I had more company, and was feeling well enough to also chat, instead of having to devote all of my energy to just walking.

More beautiful flowers along the way.

To me, this was what hiking should be. A group of people walking together at a reasonable pace, talking about stuff, and enjoying the scenery. My colleagues also started paying more attention to the nature around us, and one of them noticed a millipede along our path before I did, which started a discussion about whether millipedes curl up when they sense threat, or whether only pill bugs do.

The millipede under our scrutiny.

The millipede discussion led to a colleague telling me about banana slugs, and how they are neon yellow in color. I was extremely surprised to hear that such slugs exist, and wondered if they lived in areas that were neon yellow, or whether they were neon yellow to scare off would-be predators. My colleague believed it was the latter, but also commented that they lost so much water in open air that on some hikes, there would be dried-up banana slugs along the hiking path, from banana slugs that tried, and failed, to cross the path breadth-wise.

Much happier during the last stretch of the hike.

After hiking for some time, a colleague mentioned that we were almost at the end of the hike. I was delighted! I asked her where the hike would be ending at, and she pointed to a white building quite some distance away. It seemed pretty far to me, but I told myself that would be the last bit, and then I would be done!

Our destination: Pelican Inn — the small white building in the distance.

We kept going, with me in pretty high spirits at this point, because of the people walking with me, and also being able to take photos and chat and overall have fun in the hike. Finally, we arrived at Pelican Inn. The rest of the company were resting in the lounge, and all of us headed into the restaurant area for lunch.

High-spirited as we chose our lunch.

After lunch, we had a little team activity where we were supposed to bring up three ways to improve our company culture. We were supposed to have thought about it during the hike, but I had been too focused on actually hiking. Still, I believe I came up with good suggestions over lunch.

Group discussion after lunch.

All in all, I’m proud of myself for persevering and completing the hike, and I’m very grateful and touched by the colleagues who willingly decided to slow down and support me along the way. I believe that life is a journey, and not about heading to the destination, so I am glad that I stopped and took time to appreciate the flowers, animals and scenery along the way.

A custom achievement that I believe I’ve earned.

Proud mom, roboticist, software engineer.