6 Resilience Tips I Learned Climbing the Pyrenees

About 5 minutes to read

In life, we all have mountains to climb.  Some are literal others figurative.

Today I would like to share with you six lessons I learned climbing the Pyrenees during my Camino Francés pilgrimage in 2014.

The official route of the Camino Francés begins in the little town of St. Jean Pied de Port nestled at the foothill of the majestic Pyrenees in France.

Driving along the E5 Motorway towards Spain, I fell into a fools dream.  The journey seemed so easy and I wondered what all the fuss was about.  Where were the treacherous Pyrenees that pilgrims seemed to fear?  At Bayonne, my navigation informed me that I was 48 kilometres from my destination; there were no mountains in sight.  All seemed well.

Leaving the motorway the journey suddenly changed.  Driving the narrow winding road, the local drivers seemed impatient, reckless, and too fast for my liking.  I needed much more alertness and concentration than before and felt stressed for the first time on the journey.  The vegetation in that area was very dense and for much of the time it was like driving downward through a thick green, twisting tunnel.

Yet still I wondered where are the mountains that people seem to fear?

In the moment that I first saw the Pyrenees, I was filled with fear, felt breathless, and nearly crashed my car.  I desperately looked for a place to pull over and sat there staring at my nemesis thinking, “OH MY GOD!  WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

This is where my first lesson began.

Choose your response to fear

My perspective from a distance was much different to my perspective as I reached St. Jean Pied de Port.

From a distance, the Pyrenees seemed high and frightening, driving closer they seemed insurmountable and petrifying.

I had to choose my response to fear.  I had options: return home, catch a bus around the mountain, break the journey into two days or follow through on my plan and walk over.

A year ago, I was unfit, unhealthy, and heavier than I am now.  Nobody would have blamed me if I decided not to try.  Actually, the odds were stacked against my succeeding, but I decided to acknowledge my fear, and walk with it anyway.

I chose not to remain rooted in fear and overwhelmed by the unknown, but with each step to walk and see what could unfold for me.

My response was not to allow my fears to immobilise me.

Do not compare yourself to others

Each day thousands of pilgrims stream out of St. Jean Pied de Port heading towards Spain.

There are those that walk at a brisk pace, those that wend and wind their way up, those that jog, those that slog, those that cycle, those riding on horseback, those in wheelchairs – the list is endless.

The first eight kilometres, mildly put, are hell!  I watched the other pilgrims finding their stride and began comparing myself to them.  Doubts set in; I became worried, fearful, and angry.  I had a running dialogue in my head that was not supporting my physical efforts.

If I allowed myself to continue, wallowing in my own imperfections and beating myself up, I would never have made it over that mountain.

There will always be those who are either better or worse at something than I am.

Constantly comparing myself to others could not help me conquer that mountain.  I needed to do it my way.  Dig deep, seek my own inner strength, and find my own way over.

Align your mind with your goal

As I suffered on my way, with the running comparison in my head, I realised that I was not serving myself well.  I was not mentally aligning with my goal.

By focussing on the drama of my suffering, I was pulling myself deeper into drama and not higher up the mountain.  By allowing my mind to run amok I was not accessing my true power, I was not strengthening myself but rather dragging myself into weakness.

Therefore, I aligned my mind.

My goal was to cross the Pyrenees in a healthy state of body, mind, and spirit and this is where I aligned my mind.  I began by visualising myself reaching Roncesvalles in Spain physically fit, mentally strong and with the spirit to continue.

I reinforced this vision by practicing gratitude.  With each step I trudged my mantra was a drum like, thank-you! thank-you! thank-you!

By allowing my mind to be grateful for my body and accessing my indomitable spirit, I aligned with my goal.

Ask for help and accept it

There was a point close to the 10 km mark where I thought I could not continue.  I still had another 16 km to go and all seemed lost.  I needed a miracle and I needed one fast!

My help came from an unlikely source, another suffering pilgrim named Brendan.  We seemed to lag behind the hundreds of others and when I asked him if he would like to suffer along with me and walk together, his affirmative reply was instant.

By asking for help, I remembered a valuable lesson.  Help sometimes comes in unlikely forms and to reap the benefits I need to be willing to accept it.

Brendan had no superpowers that alleviated our suffering or transported us miraculously over the mountain what he had was a willingness to walk with a stranger and share of himself as he went.

Walking together, we immediately found that our burden lightened.  Our perspective of our suffering changed.  We were in it together, together we were strong, and somehow the journey became easier.

Plan your descent strategy

Climbing a mountain means at some stage there is a descent involved.

Many times, we focus all our energy into ascending the mountain, conquering it, overcoming it, showing it who is boss and forget that we also need to descend.

The way you descend a mountain is very different from how you ascend it.  You need to embrace different skills, be aware of how the environment has changed, use your body, and mind in a new ways.

By being careless in the descent you can cause injury and ruin the rest of the journey therefore, it is wise to have a sound strategy in place, know what your options are and when to deploy them.

Often we think descending is plain sailing but most times, it is not.  Give yourself time, make adjustments, and continue to learn lessons, exercise as much bravery coming down the other side as you did going up.

Savour your successes

Walking over the Pyrenees was a major feat for me.  I know thousands accomplish this each year and in the scheme of things, this is not a big deal however, that is not my truth.

By accomplishing what I thought impossible, I now have new yardstick for conquering my other limitations.

I have learnt not to diminish an accomplishment but rather to celebrate it.  By allowing myself to savour the sweet taste of success, I know how deep my reserves of resilience, resourcefulness, and perseverance are.

If you are climbing a mountain today, I hope these six tips will help strengthen your resolve and bring you courage to continue.

Buen Camino!

Facebook Comments
Brendan Kelly - 7 years ago

Angie, you are truly inspiring.

Until the day I die, I will never forget that first day on The Way.

Last Sunday I started to hike the track joining the five villages, Cinque Terre. I was quite confident, although it is a challenging hike, it would not be a problem. The lovely Donna and Phil who told me they had completed the hike in one day reinforced this confidence.

I had also recently completed the challenging Camino Primitivo and late last year I climbed, Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

However, the track between the third and fourth was closed village due to a landslip. The alternative was to take the train, as most people did, or to take a two and a half hour detour over a steep mountain. I chose the detour.

It was very hot, I was sweating profusely, and approximately half way up the hill, exhausted, my brain telling me; “I have to go back, come back another day, I can’t do this.”

I sat on a rock feeling disappointed; I thought to myself, “This is the hardest hike I have ever done.”

Then another brainwave, “No, no it is not. The first day on the Camino going over the Pyrenees was harder. I had felt like giving up when I met Angie and she was feeling the same. We shared some lunch and then helped each other across the top of the mountain.”

That first day on the Camino has helped me on many other tough days and not just days of hiking.

Angie on the last half of that climb on Sunday you were with me and we got to the top of the mountain. The hike took me a total of nine hours and I consumed four litres of water.

From the top of the mountain, the scenery was breath taking. My body was exhausted, but my mind was flying.

    Angela Barnard - 7 years ago

    Thank you for sharing dear Brendan.
    Just so you know you were strongly in my thoughts as you were climbing your mountain last Sunday. I did not know where you were or what you were doing, but as I was writing this blog I was feeling a deep sense of appreciation and love for you my friend.
    Perhaps I gave you a little bit of the power back that you gave to me on 18/6/14
    Buen Camino!

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