“I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s forward.”

~ David Livingstone

Have you ever – in a moment of unguarded empowerment perhaps – made plans or set a lofty goal that later had you wondering, “WHAT was I thinking?”  Maybe you agreed to take on a big project at work or decided to build your own website.  Perhaps you planned to train for a marathon or triathlon… or vowed to write a book, or learn how to play guitar.

In the exciting moment when we set the plan we rarely think about the challenges ahead, do we?  We focus on the feelings of accomplishment we’ll have when all is said and done.  Then we set out on our new mission and the real lessons begin.

You step in to the plan and question your abilities.  You take another step and wonder if you have what it takes.  You move slowly forward despite doubt and anxiety.  You move ahead with fear and vow to never do something like this ever again.  And then you turn a corner called belief.  I can do this.  I’m doing this.  Look at me go.

Even the biggest goals are accomplished one step at a time.  Rather than question your abilities, just step into it and trust in yourself.  Small steps or not, if you’re moving forward you’re heading in the right direction.  Onward and upward!

This week I’m backcountry skiing at Icefall Lodge in the majestic mountains outside of Golden B.C.  Last Saturday nineteen of us flew in by helicopter with the goal to tour and ski in some of the most beautiful mountains you’ll find anywhere.  Sure the location is breathtaking and we have our own cook, but this is no sit-back-and-relax pampered ski escape to be certain.

In the middle of nowhere surrounded by skiable terrain

With backcountry skiing if you want good ski turns and great views you have to walk up hill to get them; way up.  Each morning we put skins on our skis and begin the slow, plodding ascent to places called Troll Pass, The Portal, Vitamin P, and my favorite, Diamond Glacier.  The views and fresh powder are a worthwhile reward for hours of trudging up hill in the snow and chill wondering which will freeze first – your water bottle or your toes. .  Skin up, ski down, skin up, ski down for several kilometers each day.

How about THOSE ski tracks?

You’d think with so much distance to cover you’d have to really go for it, but the thing about backcountry skiing is you have to think like the tortoise, not the hare.  If you go out too fast you’ll sweat too much and get cold, you’ll burn too much energy and run out of steam before the day is done.  In this case, slow and steady wins the race.  One small step at a time.  No pressure.  If you’re facing forward you’re headed in the right direction.  And it’s amazing the distance we are able to cover.

Ewan with Tivoli Spire behind him

I have 5 ski days behind me as I write this post.  I’m taking a rest day today and as I look back at the last few days I feel a great sense of accomplishment.  Every day I wondered if I’ll be up for the task.  Every day when fatigue threatened I would look up toward the next viewpoint with doubt and my lovely boyfriend Ewan would smile and coax me along “What is it you tell your audiences?  Small steps to great gains…or something like that.” So that’s what I would do until I reached the next stop.  Take another step.  And every day I surprised myself.  (It’s so irritating to have your own philosophy thrown back at you in moments of duress.)

Yesterday was my longest day out, and we headed toward Tempest Glacier.  It was a long loop tour that took us under the dramatic East Face of Rostrum Peak and all the way down to Icefall Brook.  This tour took us through some of the most impressive glacier landscape I have ever seen.

We traversed across two mountain passes through wide expanses of snow and ice surrounded by jagged mountains above us and glaciers below.  Stunning.  The temperature hovered around minus 20C all day, and the wind blew just enough for it to feel much colder, so despite sunshine and blue skies the goal was to stay as warm as possible since we were a long way from shelter.  With four successful days already behind me I was feeling strong and confident, and understood the value of slow and steady.  There was almost 2200m of skiing (and skinning) on this day.

It took us close to five hours to reach our high point of 5000 ft (1600 m) at Porcupine Saddle. walking across snowy expanses and up through icy blue glaciers before beginning the 5000 foot ski descent that would take us across Tempest Glacier, down big snowy bowls, through zippy tree skiing to the bottom of the valley …well below the lodge that would mark the end of this epic day.

By this point in our journey I was quite elated at having conquered the pass, braving cold temperatures and icy winds to get to places unseen by most.  The leg-burning descent only heightened my enthusiasm for what had thus far been a fantastic adventure.  I felt strong.  We only had to walk up the valley for a few hours and we’d be back at the lodge.  How hard could it be?

I pointed my skis toward the valley that would take us back to the lodge and looked forward to hot soup and a cold beer in about three hours time.

Maybe I was too fast and energetic skinning along the flats at valley bottom, or maybe the preceding five and a half hours finally took their toll, but it wasn’t long into my ascent home that I was dreaming of a chair lift or helicopter or even a bear’s den to curl up in for a rest.  My feet started to hurt, my hands became cold, my legs felt like lead, I was hungry, tired and cold… and I still had at least two hours of up until I could sit down.

I know you’ve been here before.  The 10 km race or half marathon that never seems to end.  The hours and hours of studying or paper writing in university.  The make-or-break deadline at work.  The tedious long days of a tiring renovation.  Or in my case, the endless slog up a snowy valley to the lodge.   “I have to get this done but it’s the last thing I want to be doing.” Different experience, same pain.

“I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s forward.”

In moments like these all you can do is put your head down and take another step forward.  As painful as it is in the instant, each small step is taking you closer to accomplishment, and somewhere you find the strength to take another one, and another, and before you know it the lodge is in sight, and everything is alright.

The magnificent thing about working through this sort of pain is that it raises the bar for what you believe you’re capable of.  Each new accomplishment brings forth greater desire to try different things, overcome new fears, and move forward in this adventure called life.  You’re capable of more than you could ever imagine.  Set your sights forward and take a step.

No matter how tough the slog, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other you will conquer.

Yes I’m tired, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  Tomorrow I’ll be back out in the snow and cold, but with this winter holiday soon coming to a close I want to make the most of the Icefall terrain.  Who knows which mountain we’ll be climbing tomorrow?  It’s guaranteed to be big and cold, beautiful and very skiable, and since I’ve already proven to myself that I can, I look forward to the challenge.  Onward and upward.

p.s. I think I need a vacation to rest from my vacation.

Michelle Cederberg, CSP (Canada’s Newest Certified Speaking Professional)

MKin, BA Psyc, CEP

Helping people with full schedules and a long list of responsibilities maximize their personal energy.

Speaker, Consultant, Co-Active Coach, Author