In 2010, our oldest son Blake was going to turn eleven. (Eleven years old is a big deal–double digits AND repeating digits–the next major milestone like that is 22, a long way off.)
Beth and I wanted to do something epic, something memorable to mark this milestone in his journey to manhood, so I planned a day hike. We were going to climb the highest mountain in the San Gabriel mountain range that borders the south edge of the Antelope Valley where we lived, Mount Baldy. We ended up climbing Mount Baden-Powell instead. (The reason why is a long story worth telling, but I’ll save it for another time).
There are three important facts about this trip that I want you to know at the outset.
1. We could see where we were going from afar.
The top of the mountain was in view from our house and most of the drive to the trailhead. We had also read descriptions and reviews of the hike and had a street map to get us to the trail. The point is, we had a vision of our destination.
2. Along the way, there were many times we couldn’t see the top of the mountain.
You can see what I mean in this picture. Knowing what our goal was and where we were going kept us motivated. Otherwise, we would not have made it to the top–we needed that encouragement and inspiration. On the other hand, we needed to focus on the back and forth of the winding trail and not the top of the mountain during our trek.
3. There was a trail with mile markers (some of which were missing) to help guide us.
Along the way, Blake was getting very tired–after all, he only had ten year old legs. He wanted to quit. He wanted to take another water break. He wanted another snack. At one point, I told him we would stop at the next mile marker (and that was the one that was missing–though I didn’t know that). When you are expecting the next milestone to be a mile up the trail, and it isn’t, the next mile seems very, very long.
The trail cut back and forth across the mountain–it did not go straight up the hill. I imagine the hike would have been much, much more difficult if we had tried to climb the steepest gradient. For that reason, a straight line to the top probably would not have been the fastest way.
At one point, we thought we saw the top, but the trail was leading us a different direction. It turned out to be a “false summit.” It’s a good thing we didn’t try to take a shortcut to this “false summit” like we thought about doing.
So what does all this mean?
I wouldn’t let Blake quit on the hike up to the summit–and he truly wanted to quit. I believed that he could do it, even though he didn’t believe–even though he didn’t want to do it at this point.
When we got to the summit, there was a transformation of Blake’s countenance. The fatigue came off his shoulders like his Camelback, and he breathed in enthusiasm with every gusty wind. I am pretty sure that my eyes began to “water” profusely as I watched from the top, and he finished the last hundred yards. We sat up there for a long time looking out over Los Angeles on one side and the Antelope Valley on the other and maybe even the Pacific Ocean, at the place where the edge of the sky became blurry in the haze of the metropolis below. We saw the lakebeds at Edwards AFB and the neighborhood where we lived. When we finally started back down the mountain, Blake wouldn’t stop talking. He literally wouldn’t stop talking. He was so excited.
I learned some things about being a dad. And I learned somethings about being a son, a small, immature, underdeveloped child in the eyes of my Father. I learned some things about my plans. I learned some things about His plans.
A journey like this–whether it’s a hike on a trail, a trip in your car, or a cross-country flight–is a vivid illustration, rich with analogies to life and strategic planning and the scientific method and even applications of statistics and metrics and analytics to all of the aforementioned areas.
I’ve made this trek a thousand times since then in my mind and in my life. Sometimes, we can’t see where we are going. Sometimes I want to take a shortcut to that place I see that I think is the summit, the destination.
Sometimes there isn’t a trail that I can see.
Sometimes the mile markers I was expecting aren’t there, and the next mile seems really long (when in reality it’s two miles).
Understanding all these things helps when I face the unexpected. Understanding the process or algorithm or steps to chart the course helps when we face the unexpected in engineering or statistics and even leadership and life.
It helps to have a shared mental picture of the journey and the process, and that’s the picture I am trying to paint.
Don’t quit. The view from the top is amazing, even when you know you have to go back down the mountain, down into the valleys of life.
It really was an epic journey, one I will cherish for a long time. If you want to see more pictures from our trek, you can see them on facebook.
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