When Pain Keeps You from Enjoying the Trail

Has your own mind kept you from experiencing the full potential of a trail before?

Below is a picture of me on the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and one of the most popular hikes in the entire country.

Don’t believe that sunshiney face for a minute. My calves were on fire. My feet were throbbing. As a result, it took me so long to climb the switchbacks up to the alpine pass, my husband and I were the last ones on the trail that day.

Description: The Kepler Track

One of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Kepler Track is a 60 km (37 miles) loop that takes you through a beech tree forest carpeted with crown ferns, along Lake Te Anau, and up to the mountains above. Impressive panoramic views on a clear day will be your reward. On top of that, keas – the only alpine parrots in the world – will put on quite a show for you!

We were truly in for a treat.

Perfect Conditions. Imperfect Moods.

We were blessed with perrrrfect weather on our alpine crossing day. The wind was either calm or ghostly. The air temperature was crisp and cool. And the clouds were just enough to give us shade from the sun but not cover up the mountains we’d worked so hard to see. This is fortunate because many, if not most, people do this trek to see white nothingness or rain.

But for some reason, I wasn’t happy. I kept looking down at my suffering, blistered feet and wondering how much more climbing my body could endure. All day, I’d seen people from all over the world up here just seeming to take this trail in stride. I kept reminding myself not to compare myself to others and take in the beauty surrounding me.

Me at my lowest point

But gosh darn it, I couldn’t break through the pain. The throbbing, blistered pain. What was I going to do when this happened on the AT this summer? 

Beating the Pain

It was at that point, I stopped. I looked up and around at the fjord ahead of me and remembered my surroundings and where I was. This was New Zealand! One of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. These glacial-carved cliffs running sharply toward the deepest blue water you can imagine, glimmering in the sunset light. This was the set for Middle Earth for crying out loud!

I realized if I couldn’t find happiness and beauty here, where else would I find it? So I paused, smiled, breathed in the crisp air, and took another step. And wouldn’t you know it? My pain had diminished.

Tools I Used

I continued this way for the next hour and my mood improved exponentially. I utilized tools I’d learned from Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” to keep myself present. If you’re not familiar with this book, it’s quite popular. He talks about how we can make ourselves healthier by focusing on our inner bodies and avoiding what he calls the pain body. 

All these tools made the rest of the Kepler track into the treasure it truly was. I was happy. I could see the beauty. My husband quickly snapped a photo of my silliness when he could see my attitude had shifted.

I could explain this photo, but I’d rather not. ?

I realized my problem wasn’t my feet or my legs. My problem was me. I was getting frustrated with the trail. My destination was at the forefront of my thoughts – that sweet rest at the end – rather than what I’d come here for in the first place. Eckhart Tolle reminds us that time is an illusion and all we have is the moment at hand. If I were to waste a moment in this dynamic landscape, it would be a shame. I also reminded myself that I can have a rest any time I want, especially if my body needs it.

Me feeling 50 years older as I struggle to get down from the posing rock with my mangled calves.

Final Thoughts

I know I’m going to encounter moments like this on the AT. I don’t think this is one of those “embrace the suck” moments. Those encompass things that can’t be helped such as putting on cold, wet clothes in the morning. But I think there was very little suck to embrace on the Kepler. Rather, I was focusing on pain rather than focusing on everything else – my surroundings, the beauty, the gratitude of being there, and so much more. I was identifying with that pain and thus, I became the pain for a moment. I’m glad I was able to turn it around in time to enjoy this wonderful trail. Lesson learned but it will take practice to avoid this in the future.

How do you keep pain from affecting your enjoyment on trail? Tell me in the comments. 

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Comments 3

  • Dana Markey : Feb 15th

    I want to see New Zealand! Sounds like you need new, larger boots before the AT!

  • Paulette Strong : Feb 15th

    Dana, you may be right about Jamie needing larger boots for the AT. We should crowd source that for Jamie! :^)

    I am really proud of Jamie for working through/around the pain. It’s as if she was the river moving easily when, suddenly, there were huge boulders in her way. So, she/the river simply moved around the rocks and kept going on. Way to go girl!

  • Maria : Feb 21st

    How do I keep pain from my enjoyment on the trail? I can speak from the trail of life and the hardships endured as we navigated through our son’s near death and subsequent severe brain injury. First, I had to allow space for the pain. Allow myself to be sad and frustrated and scared and confused and hurt…and then quickly set it aside to be present and supportive. The greatest enjoyment in our own pain was to turn our attention to those around us and how we could serve and care for them. Focusing on our own trials and tribulations was a requirement of the path, but to love and care for others serving us or suffering around us was a choice. Choosing to look beyond our own pain and turn outward towards others with compassion and non judgement…it made the journey beautiful instead of ugly because of the pain.


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