After 46 days of hiking in the Pyrenees mountains I was finally able to lay eyes on the Mediterranean Sea.
Day 46 - The destination
…The rain from the day before had cleared the air and I had beautiful views of the Mediterranean. Once I crossed Puig de Sallfort I spotted Banyuls-sur-Mer in the distance, 3000 feet below and the place where my hike would come to its end.
I walked the last few miles through vineyards before entering the sleepy, out-of-season, tourist town. 560 miles of climbing and descending more than 380,000 feet through countless valleys and passes, were about to reach their watery finish on the beach ahead.
I turned the last corner and walked past the beachfront restaurants where lunch crowds were gathering. I stopped momentarily at the town hall across from the beach, which marked the official finish of the Grande Randonnée 10 (GR10).
However, I had started at the water's edge in Hendaye among sunbathers 46 days earlier and would not be done until I had crossed the now empty autumn beach and put my feet in the Mediterranean sea…
The destination I had set many months before in San Francisco now lay at my feet. The idea of this moment had been a beacon, often pulling my exhausted body on and up over countless steep mountainsides.
I felt excited to be able to go home to family and friends, but also noticed a tinge of sadness. A realization that the joy of simplicity I had experienced on the path, walking in nature among animals and spectacular mountain ranges, was coming to an end. Simply put, it was a bit anticlimactic.
How often do we reach our goals only to be met with this feeling once the initial rush of achievement subsides?
How often do we overemphasize the happiness we will derive from achieving our goals, perhaps to the detriment of enjoying the journey taken to get there?
Had I approached the hike, as just a means to completing the GR10, I would have missed 46 enriching days for 15 minutes of happiness on that beach.
Worse still. Had I hiked with a singular focus on achieving my goal, I would have been miserable most of the time. The constant aches, the spells of bad weather and getting lost in the chilly fog were among just a few of the challenges I met on my way. But goals do still play an important role.
A goal sets an intention and gives us direction. It becomes instrumental in our enjoyment of the day-to-day, whether we are climbing mountains or are stuck in rush-hour traffic. The goal gives us purpose and tells us why we do something. Importantly, it gives us a reason to endure the challenges on the way.
With every step, my aching knees became a constant reminder of what I had set out to achieve. The knowledge of why I was walking, transformed potential suffering into a meaningful connection with my path. Once I accepted my aching knees as part of my experience, they too brought me some measure of meaning and joy.
The knowledge, that the journey itself is our main source of joy in life, means we can connect daily with our purpose. We don’t have to wait for some imagined future, when certain conditions have been achieved, to be happy.
Goals, instead of being destinations, become way-markers and milestones on the way, to guide us and give us meaning. This is why it is crucial to pick milestones along your own path, not someone’s else’s, or you will be led astray and get lost.
Are you currently crossing a desert, parched, suffering in the burning hot sun, chasing the mirage of the shaded oasis, the promised land…the next promotion, partner, vacation…Yes you may achieve all those goals, but at what cost? Ask yourself.
Why do I walk?
How do I relate to my goals?
Goals only become problematic if they do not align with your purpose or when we confuse a succession of goals for the path. When we forget that life happens right here, right now.
Why not pick the beautiful path that feels right, even when the going gets tough, the one connecting you with life? It is already under your feet, waiting patiently for you to pay attention to it, to notice its beauty in every step.
Always remember, life is the journey, not the destination.