I escaped to the mountains to hike the Leopard Trail in the Baviaanskloof last week. It felt sacred. An honour to walk in the steps of ancient people who had made a living in this normally barren landscape. For us, hiking in spring after the exceptional recent rains and floods, we were treated to the best of this biome. We walked through what felt like a richly planted indigenous garden – gurgling streams, canopies of flourishing indigenous forests and towering red cliffs.
But don’t be deceived by this picture of beauty into thinking it was a stroll. It wasn’t. It is a four-day hike that is gruelling on the body. The lovely shady walks are interspersed with arduous climbs up and across mountains only to descend again into another valley. Loose stone, shale, sandy paths and river crossings on shaky rocks tested our balance and strength. Our bodies were tender at night. We nursed blisters and broken toenails too.
The mountain treated us to expansive views of the wilderness set against unbelievably blue skies. From these elevations, we could see we had come from hundreds of metres below and sometimes, we got a glimpse into the distance showing us where we still had to go.
We were exposed to the sun, harsh even in the spring weather. It gave us a taste of what this wilderness could feel like in the heat of summer or a drought. We were thankful for the soft spring breeze and our fortuitous timing.
Walking for hours on end sets one's mind free to roam. Not all of these ruminations are good. We observed how each of us turned inward at different times, to battles that had nothing to do with the challenges of the trail. In the stillness outside, the internal world became a congested highway of warring thoughts.
Often these types of physical challenges don’t bring out the best. We were no different. In a large, tired group, stress patterns were exposed. We needed gentleness and empathy with others as much as ourselves.
Trail hiking is, of course, not unlike life. It’s not possible to dwell in the valleys of joy forever. To progress, you must cross mountains. It’s the challenges in life that provide the opportunities to view life from a different perspective. At times, they will bring out the worst and they are typically painful. But if we’re willing to turn inwards and reflect on our pain, they are also spaces that allow for expansion.
Even in our money matters, we cannot achieve growth without pain, specifically the pain of risk. Investment risk is typically measured by the frequency and elevation of the rises and falls in a portfolio’s value. Right now, we are in a period of discomfort, of challenge. Financial markets have not produced pleasing returns for a long time – while portfolio values climbed from the depths of the pandemic, most have recently taken a tumble again.
It's time to dig deep, put one foot in front of the other, and believe that we will step into easier terrain again. It may even be a time to turn inward and examine our fears – about money, about life – and to turn our beliefs inside out, considering how they serve us on our journey.
Life cannot only consist of strolls. It includes both the easy and difficult, sometimes on the same day or even in the same moment. Joy and pain can coincide. Accepting this reality might just make our journeys better.