The world was spinning.
I stopped, reaching out to rest one hand against the deep red bark of a nearby tree. Inhaling deeply, I filled my lungs, willing the oxygen into my body, waiting for the dark spots in my vision to subside.
We had been hiking for more than four hours. We had lost the trail once, slipped in the never-ending snow and ice multiple times, and exhausted most of our food supply.
I had a choice. I could continue the final 1,000 feet to the summit of Humphrey’s Peak, where promised views of the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon awaited. Or I could turn back and begin the long descent down the snow-covered mountain.
We turned around.
I relished the opportunity to reconnect with my long-time hiking buddy and business partner. Of course, once I arrived we into our usual bad habits of biting off more than we could chew. Eager to hit the trails, we decided to spend the first day of my trip ascending Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona.
It was a hike that promised incredible views at the summit, of both the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert. We were eager, excited, and woefully unprepared.
In the end, we did not summit. Altitude sickness, snow, and overall exhaustion cut our hike short. We made it to a dizzying 11,300 feet above sea level, only 1,000 feet and less than a mile from the summit. We were so close we could taste victory. But still, we turned back.
This was the first time I have ever quit a hike midway because I felt I simply could not continue. Ouch.
It was definitely a blow to my ego, but it also taught me a few important lessons about quitting.
There is no shame in quitting
I’m an incredibly stubborn person, often to the point of my own detriment. I like challenges, and I like conquering them. There is nothing more gratifying than pushing my body to its limits and accomplishing something I never knew I could do.
Which is why turning back from Humphrey’s Peak was not easy. It was, however, the right decision, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I called it quits when I did.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a challenge. You can forget about the possible consequences, and you can think yourself invincible.
Don’t forget, though — your safety (and sanity) is always more important than checking an item off your bucket list. Don’t ever be ashamed of a decision that helps keep you safe and healthy.
Outside of the hiking realm, risk and reward is still an important consideration. There’s no point in plowing blindly forward just to reach some arbitrary goal that you’ve set for yourself.
If you’re struggling, re-evaluate. Maybe you just need to consider everything from a different angle. Or maybe it’s time to put the challenge away for awhile.
Quitting is not failure
I may not have reached the summit, but I did drag myself up to 11,300 feet above sea level when just 24 hours prior I was sitting in Houston, where the elevation rarely exceeds 80 feet.
I spent nine hours on the trail, hiking over boulder fields and ice traps, and I witnessed some amazing vistas. I was able to spend time in nature, breathing in fresh, clean mountain air. I spent valuable time with a friend I rarely see.
Just because I didn’t summit, that doesn’t mean that I failed. I still pushed myself, I still tested my limits, and I still have something to be proud of.
When you decide that enough is enough, don’t forget to find something to congratulate yourself over. It’s easy to dwell on what you didn’t do or couldn’t do, but don’t forget about what you did do.
Learn from your mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes going into this hike. I didn’t think about the altitude, I expected the snow to be a light dusting at worst, and I only did cursory research into the trail. Having never been snow hiking before, I didn’t expect vast swaths of ice, or pockets of snow that were so deep I sunk in past my knees.
The next time I go into a hike like Humphrey’s Peak I’ll know how to prepare better. I’ll know that trekking poles and crampons are essential in the spring, and that I should give myself a few days to adjust to a new altitude. I’ll pack more food and look up more detailed weather reports.
Every experience comes with a set of lessons. Recognizing what those lessons are, and actively allowing yourself to grow from them, is what makes the experience worthwhile..
There is something valuable to be learned from everything that you do in life. Even something that looks like a complete disaster may produce small gems of wisdom, experience, and future success.
Love the journey
As a goal-oriented person, I often forget to stop and enjoy the journey itself. Sometimes this leads to me missing out on quite a bit. Instead of trying to power through to the summit, it’s more important to stop and appreciate the varied views.
Along the trail we saw beautiful stretches of forest, filled with bone-white Aspens and stately Ponderosa pines. We witnessed a giant rock slide and looked down on a ski resort from above. All of these were profoundly beautiful, worthwhile experiences in their own right.
If you’re only focused on the end goal, then you don’t have time to recognize that there are amazing things along the way. Whether you’re climbing a mountain, starting a business, running a blog, or navigating a new city, the journey is just as important as the destination. Take pleasure in the small moments.
I quit, and I’m okay with it.
If we had continued our hike I could have seriously hurt myself, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the rest of my trip. Humphrey’s Peak wasn’t the only hike we took, but for the rest of the weekend we stuck to shorter day hikes that promised good views, good exercise, and attainable goals.
I won’t say that Humphrey’s Peak is out of the question in the future, but I now know that it’s the sort of trek I need to prepare for. Summiting the highest peak in Arizona requires stronger lungs and more practiced muscles than I have right now, and that’s okay. It gives me something to strive for.
And when I think of it, there are other things that I’ve quit in life. I quit swim team. I quit my first major in college. I quit teaching in public schools. I quit business ideas in favor of other business ideas. I quit projects. I’ve quit so many novels it isn’t even funny.
Quitting is a part of life, and knowing your limits is important. You can’t succeed at everything, and sometimes it’s good to throw out the extra baggage, look your limits in the eye, and accept them for what they are.
Ask yourself, is it really worth continuing? Am I going to gain from it? Or am I just being bull-headed for the sake of my own hubris?
If it’s the latter, it might be time to back off.
If it’s the former, and it’s really worth it to you, then press on, my friend.
I’m proud of what I did accomplish, and I learned from the experience, which will help me grow and face future challenges that I will see through to the end.
And that’s what really matters.
Have you ever turned back on an adventure because you knew it was the safest route?