Lessons from the track

Just look at this lake!

Today I have been walking around one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever visited. Lac Annecy is simply superb. It’s captivating and I wish I had more time to explore it and the villages dotted around the 50km lake circumference. It wasn’t hard to walk more than 20kms today around some of France’s third largest lake and Europe’s cleanest. The added bonus the beauty of Annecy township thrown in as well.

This holiday has centred on walking. That was my plan and I have been averaging about eight hours on foot each day. Today I found myself on gorgeous lakeside paths and trails and unlike my recent hikes in Cinque Terre and Chamonix, today, was a lovely flat track. Not a staircase to be seen!

I have liked running for many years. I say like because I can’t say I love it – I think because while I enjoy the challenge of clocking up kilometres, I don’t think it slows me down, as it does for many.

But in the past few years I have discovered a passion for walking and hiking and it has become such a soulful experience for me. Maybe it has come with age and this holiday has confirmed the desire to do so much more. Yet don’t worry kids I won’t start walking around Vermont South with my new French purchased hiking poles.

The game changer for me has been discovering the joy in the journey as I hike and walk –  rather than being too destination focused.

Now as I walked around some of Lac Annecy today one thing was clear – I reckon I could easily live here. The lake is a haven for water sports with designated cycling, walking and running paths the whole way round. Close to the snow and the mountains and the beautiful city of Annecy right there on the lake – with history, culture, good food and more. I met a young British businessman today and he told me he finds a reason to come to Annecy with work every year. Tom’s a smart man and he joined me in a very refreshing swim in a chilly lake this afternoon.

Following my dip, it was back on the trails for some more walking and exploring.

As I walk I find myself catching my breath, unwinding, focusing on the moment, thinking, imagining, seeing little things, seeing other people around me, hearing sounds I might normally miss, celebrating simple beauty and yes having the time to take a snap or two to post on social media!

It is good to physically push myself as well. I have found the past week physically, emotionally and spiritually renewing as I have clocked up the kilometres – helped by the sheer beauty of the places I have been privileged to visit.

What about you? What are the things that renew you – that slow you down – that help you catch your breath? Has life become so busy and rushed that you desperately need to rediscover those soulful activities that will help you regain perspective and rediscover joy in the here and now?

To be honest, for a long time I was overly destination focused and I still have to fight this default setting in me to enjoy the moment – to savour the experience of the journey.

I was reminded of this tension again yesterday as I had planned to hike to Lac Blanc in the French Alps. But track closures and high summer snowfalls meant that it just wasn’t going to happen. There was initial disappointment and then a reframing text came in from my wise wife. It simply said: “Have fun, enjoy and relax.”

Suddenly I was reminded I am in Chamonix – right before me is the Mont Blanc massif, beautiful trails abound. Don’t lose sight of what is right before you!

Now don’t get me wrong – destination is important in life – and it helps when travelling as well!

The Scriptures remind us that people without a sense of destination – or vision – can so easily lose sight of what is most important in life. Stephen Covey reminds us to “begin with the end in mind” and he encourages all individuals, families and organisations to have a clear sense of their mission and purpose – to have an articulated life or organisational destination, shaped by our values and what is most important to us.

I want that – I see the need. I love helping others to clarify their vision; their life destination. I am privileged to work on a team with a clear sense of vision and direction.

But here’s the flipside – we also like doing team together! We seek to embrace the journey together. To kick goals, but have fun playing the game together.

The reality is we can all so quickly get swallowed up by focusing too much on the destination.

I was on a train last Sunday from Rome to La Spezia. It was running late and three American women sitting near me were getting increasingly stressed. The women – a mother and two adult daughters – had plans that evening in Monterosso and it was clear they didn’t want anything or anyone to get in their way. Soon they started taking out their stress on each other. Out their window was the most beautiful coastline and ahead Cinque Terre, but they got lost in where they wanted to get to in a hurry and forgot what was right before them. I was ahead of them at the Monterosso station exit when it was a case of watch out Scott – American mum was coming through. She was in a hurry and I was in her way!

I know from personal experience I’ve been too much like that in different aspects of life and it has impacted negatively on me and others, particularly my family. I can get too caught up in what in how I want things to turn out, to focused on an outcome and lose sight of the good right before me.

Andy Stanley says we all carry around “expectations” and particularly when they are not met we can so easily dump on others or become negative and lose sight of all the good things in life. We can focus on one thing we haven’t got or one thing that hasn’t turned out like we wanted and forget all the other blessings before us.

In our busy, rushed lives – with so many pressures and things to do – we can become so focused on chasing that next goal, getting the to-do list ticked, getting ahead at work, pushing our kids to succeed or chasing something extraordinary that we can fail to take in the beauty and joy right before us in the here and now – in the simple and the ordinary.

That’s why hiking and walking are good for me. They have become a tonic for the soul. They slow me down. They remind me to breathe! They remind me to see the joy in the journey – as well as the importance of where I want to arrive at. They remind me of the need to see life through the perspective lens.

And yes – on the winding steep climb from Corniglia to Manarola last Tuesday in Cinque Terre there were moments when I thought “will this ever end” – but that’s ultimately becomes an up-side for me, because I needed to again dig deep. As I wrote earlier in the week hiking can so easily become a metaphor for life.

Today’s walk wasn’t hard and there was beauty every step of the way – and I even found a good reason to stop at a little lakeside canoeing club and to help their fundraising I enjoyed a local ale – not something I normally do mid hike, but hey there has to be some holiday leeway.  

Life at times can seem like today’s walk – easy and exhilarating. But then there are those other moments – giant staircases, big hills, rugged climbs – and like life – we have to dig deep, remind ourselves of our resilience and capacity and conquer the uphill, one step at a time.

This is the least planned major holiday I have ever taken. Yes, some of the big pieces have been in play – but in the past I would have had a detailed plan in mind for each day. This past week each day has unfolded and that has been very refreshing for me. It has helped me enjoy the day to day and not get lost in the detail.

Tomorrow is fast approaching and I know I have to be back in Torino for a 3pm train to Milan, but I am still not sure what will come on the way. I’ve just been googling a few ideas – maybe another walk!

Sure, it’s easier to take such an approach on holidays, but let’s face it, most of us live life with too small a margin. We push hard, we squeeze time, we have so much to do and we are beckoned to chase after more and more. Busyness can become a badge of honour, we can feel guilty about “wasting time”. We can find it hard to slow down and switch off.

This past week has reminded me again of the vital need for us to catch our breath and discover those renewing places, spaces and practices – be they when we have the privilege of travel, or more importantly in the midst of everyday, ordinary life.

For now, I am going to stop and savour again some of the many photos I took today at the stunning Lac Annecy. Have a great weekend!


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