Have you ever set a goal for yourself? Maybe you were going to take a course, and finish it. Maybe you were going to exercise more. Maybe you were going to learn a new language. Setting the goal was the easy part. Getting there, and completing the goal, that was the hard part. It took some planning, some decision-making, some preparing, some tough choices and trade-offs. I recently spent a few days on Block Island. I walked a lot (that’s what you do on Block Island), and it was fun to be a tourist, snapping photos of quaint houses, the great Victorian inns, and the ocean, forever changing. One of those days, I found myself at the northern tip of the island, where the paved road ends, and there’s nothing but sand between the end of the road, and the northern lighthouse. A lot of sand. I decided that I was going to see that lighthouse. And so, I set forth. I thought it would be a short hike, maybe 10-15 minutes, tops. It wasn’t. I started out, feeling just fine. For about two minutes. That’s when I realized that there was no “road,” no path at all, nothing solid underfoot. Just sand. Shifting, slippery sliding sand that turned each step into a Herculean effort. It was 92 degrees that afternoon. But I wanted to get to that lighthouse. Suddenly, nothing else mattered. Everything else fell away, and it seemed to me that my life depended on reaching that lighthouse. I wanted this like I had never wanted anything else before. Well, my head wanted it, and my heart wanted it. My legs: that was another matter. It became a torturous walking meditation of sorts: Stepping high, placing, sliding, pushing off. Stepping high, placing, sliding, pushing off.
I tried different strategies: What if I took longer strides? That didn’t work. What if I turned my feet out as I strode forward? That did work: I must have looked like a cross-country skier lost in a nightmare, displaced from snowy slopes onto a distant and unfriendly beach.
I stopped to catch my breath (a lot). I stopped to take gulps of water (a lot). I stopped to shake out the sand caught in my sneakers (a lot). I stopped to take pictures of the lighthouse, taunting me. I stopped to look back to check on my progress (unimpressive). OK, I stopped a lot, but I kept going. The sweat pouring down my forehead stung my eyes. But I kept going. And I finally got to the bottom of the little hill that leads up to the lighthouse. The structure loomed large in front of me now, not so far away anymore. I considered turning around: after all, I’d sort of made it. That didn’t feel right, though; I hadn’t trekked all that way in the unforgiving sand just to turn back when I was just one small hill away from the lighthouse. I was going to get to that lighthouse and touch that building and look around and take in the view! So I trudged up the final hill, quads screaming, heart pounding, face burning from the heat. And I made it! I felt triumphant! For others (people in better aerobic condition than I), this is probably not a hard trek. But for me, it was, and I was grinning from ear to ear because I had vanquished my inner demon (“go back … this is crazy …. it’s hot as blazes out here … you don’t have to do this … you’re not in any shape to do this … what if you die out here … “). And when I had rested a bit, and taken a selfie or two (oh yes, I wanted proof!), and gulped more water, I turned around to face the trek back to where the road had ended, and my quest had begun.
Here’s what I learned. If you’re going to trek to the lighthouse, you need to do three things: Travel light. Drink water. And wear sturdy shoes.