On our vacation to Canada's maritime provinces, my husband and I embarked on a four day journey which has since become known as The Hardest Thing We've Ever Done™. We hiked the Long Range Traverse in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, complete with all our gear on our backs. There were no marked trails and the terrain was difficult. Many people thought we were crazy to do it, and that's before they realized I was pregnant!
But let's face it. If I was able to get through this, then getting my PhD shouldn't be so bad. I even learned a few tricks along the way to help me get past feeling my lowest.
The first day of the hike is by far the most gruelling. In the picture above, we are at the top of a gorge. In the far distance you can see water - that's the Western Brook Pond and where we started our journey. Getting up here takes a lot of persistence and strength, particularly near the end. The last upward bit takes you up the side of a waterfall where you basically have to climb rocks almost straight up. One wrong move and I'm pretty sure you'd be seriously injured as you fell backwards.
I was very tired in this last stretch, but I was able to find it in me to keep going. Perhaps it's because I knew I had to - it's not like I was going to walk back to the beginning (assuming I even could)! So I kept going. Slowly, granted, but never giving up. I even had a Radiohead song playing in my head over and over: "Try the best you can... the best you can is good enough..."
When we finally made it to the top, I wanted to collapse and cry. We sat down for a minute but then had to go find a decent water source. After deciding we were going to keep going to find a good campsite (we knew we wouldn't make it to the one we had intended to stay at), I looked back and saw the view everyone comes here for:
Despite utter exhaustion, I knew it would be worth snapping a quick photo before dragging myself away. I'm really glad I did.
I figure that just like getting out of the gorge, if I have to go a little slower to make it to the end of grad school, I've learned that not only is it ok, it's totally going to be worth it.
The rest of the trip was tough, but I never had a low point again. I knew if I could make it this far, I could do the rest as well. I may have also been a bit more mentally prepared for the difficulty of the journey than Andrew was - I think he found it more difficult than he expected. (Which isn't to say he did awesome - he could have finished even sooner if it wasn't for me slowing us down. But there were times he was getting pretty worried and I was able to keep our spirits up.)
Accepting the fact that the challenge will be great seems to be a really good way to set yourself up for success.
When we finally got back in the three nights we had hoped to do the hike in (though we were prepared for four just in case), we showered and then collapsed. The next morning, Andrew's parents, also visiting the area, presented us with these awesome t-shirts commemorating our accomplishment.
Whether it's a shirt, a degree, or just a really good story to tell, doing something difficult in your life makes it feel like you've really lived.
If you'd like to see the rest of our photos along with commentary, you can do so on this public Facebook album.