What I learned from horse riding in Mongolia

When talking about going beyond our comfort zones, we often refer to an intellectual way of doing so: to challenge ourselves in ways that require our brains to learn new things.

But in this case, I want to talk about physical comfort.

To go beyond your physical comfort zone is to arrive at a point in which being physically uncomfortable becomes, paradoxically, comfortably enough.

This past July I went for four days to a horse ride in the Mongolian steppe. I spent the night inside a nomad family’s yurt, slept on the floor, didn’t take a shower at all, and ate the same food every day. I was in constant pain from the beginning of my trip.

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And yet, every day was a reminder of how well it felt to spend time in nature and how little we humans need to survive.

Yes, the nomads have a hard life. They don’t get to live many years. But being in Mongolia also made me wonder why in the West do we want to live for so long (I think this should be a choice, but this is another topic).

And why do we want to have so many possessions that require us to have bigger houses when a yurt might be enough?

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Maybe living like the nomads is extreme, but I think living like rich people do it is extreme too.

I’ve always liked having few things (and I still think I have too much), but after being in Mongolia, I am more committed than ever to possess even less.

I’ve learned that is uncomfortable to live like the Mongolian nomads, but now I know that I can do it.

Now I am aware that any other physical discomfort or lack of material things I might experience won’t be comparable to my Mongolian experience.

That if I even got to enjoy that precarity, then I can live with fewer things than with what in the West we tend to think we need.

I learned that I could find comfort in the discomfort.

Even in the discomfort after falling off a horse.

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But this is also another story ūüėČ

3 things I learned from hiking in Japan

Golden Week is a period of 4 Japanese holidays in a row at the beginning of May. During the 2016 Golden Week, my husband and I decided to hike one of the trails (Nakahechi route) of the ancient Kumano Kodo.

For over 1000 years people from all levels of society, including retired emperors and aristocrats, have made the arduous pilgrimage to¬†Kumano. These pilgrims used a network of routes, now called the Kumano Kodo…

Previous to this, together with friends, at the end of March of the same year we hiked the Choishimichi pilgrimage trail that goes to the sacred ancient city of Koyasan.

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In total, we have hiked around 64 km, 40 km in Kumano Kodo and 24 km to Koyasan.

Moreover, apart from pain and blisters, I have taken three valuable lessons with me:

1. Train yourself for the future

Though I have strong legs and I am used to exercising, it is not the same to walk 20km with a small backpack, as I did when I hiked to Koyasan, as to walk 20km with 10kg on your back.

Because after hiking to Koyasan I knew that I was able to walk 20km in approximately 7hrs, I thought that I would be able to walk the Kumano Kodo as well.

However, as the trail turned steeper, I realized that I should have hiked to Koyasan with the same amount of weight to train myself for Kumano Kodo. 

 

2. The adventure starts when you leave your comfort zone

However, I was there, almost at the beginning of the trail and already tired. To quit would have been a relief for my legs, but a sad disappointment for my adventure-loving husband.

I was about to panic when I realized that even there I had options:

Either I stop hiking and start arguing with my husband trying to convince him to come back with me, or…

…I EXPLORE how far I can go.

 

3. There’s bliss beyond the pain

During the Kumano Kodo we walked 40km in 3 days: 18km the first day, 2km the second day, and 20km the last day.

However, because the Kumano Kodo is a UNESCO World Heritage, it is very popular around the world even if you are not a fan of hiking. So if you do not want to walk to visit its famous shrines, there are some buses and even boats you can take from one shrine to the other, or even along the hiking trail.

And that is what we did the second day. After walking 2km, we took a bus at a near station to a camping site 20km further on, set our tent, left unnecessary weight, and came back the next day by bus to the same bus station. Then, carrying only one lighter backpack, we re-started the last and longest section of the trail.

But as our work life is not free of hurdles, our vacations are no walk in the park either. 

Though the 3rd day was weight-free for me, there was no way to avoid hiking under the rain. And so I did.

I have no words to describe the feelings I had the last 2km we walked to our destination. Walking under the rain, tired as I have never been before, I stopped being aware of my body in pain. I was walking faster, jumping with excitement the roots and the rocks on my way, with my full attention on the trail to be aware of any poisonous snake.

I was clear focus and flow. I had no body, I was only mind. And as we arrived at the main entrance of the last shrine, I cried.