I recently returned from an annual visit with a friend who owns a home in Whitefish, Montana. She and I go way back, having worked together some years ago, and I now enjoy an annual visit to continually explore the wildly beautiful Flathead Valley and nearby Glacier National Park.
This year we decided to hike a trail that we’re quite fond of – the Danny On trail – down Big Mountain. Danny On is a moderately strenuous up-and-down hike, and this year we had started out a bit later than we planned, so we decided on a one-way trip, riding the ski lift up and hiking the trail back down. “Down” is a relative term, of course, and there were still enough roller-coaster humps along the trail to ensure a good workout, after which we would head back to her house to shower and change for our evening plans, a walking tour through the town’s art galleries.
Best laid plans, and all that…
Despite what the calendar may suggest, snow in the Glacier region is often a year-round concern; it’s not uncommon for trails to still remain snow-covered even well into July. Once we reached the top and found the trail head, we came upon a sign warning us that the trail would be snow-covered and not to expect any trail markings to guide our descent. But we’d hiked the trail without incident in prior years, and so we blithely forged forward, day-packs filled with lunch and reservoirs of water on our backs, already thinking about stopping for a leisurely meal on the rocky outcropping we’d visited several times before.
No rocky outcropping. At least not where we thought it was supposed to be…
The misguided faith in our clearly fault-ridden memories led us to take a wrong turn. Somehow we ended up on a trail (we think!) that led us to the other side of the mountain, the side facing the Canadian Rockies. A beautiful scene, certainly, but not the one we had hoped for. That one would not have been facing another country. Still, there we were, in a strange place, our footprints mingling only with those of elk and deer.
It was new territory.
In a week, I will be entering a different kind of new territory as I begin my Ph.D. in Leadership and Change at Antioch University. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. I’ve researched many different programs and familiarized myself with what to expect and what will be expected of me. I’ve talked with people who have completed the Antioch program, have reviewed its curriculum and program schedule, and have colleagues and friends in my life who have completed a doctoral program at various universities. Still, it’s new territory, territory that will call upon me to engage in new relationships and new way of navigating my personal and professional life.
My friend and I found our way back just fine that day. We knew that as long as the ridge was to our left we would eventually find our way back to a trail and that, when we did, we could follow the streams of slowly melting snow downhill—the direction we wanted to go. We navigated the challenge, supporting each other with our optimism. The outcome was never really in doubt.
I feel that way about my upcoming Ph.D. journey. I’m a bit nervous, but also excited. I know that the path won’t always be manicured and snow-free. But I am certain that along with my wits and the support of my family, friends, cohort and professors, I’ll find my way just fine. Besides, new territory brings new learning. And that’s really what it’s all about.