From Mud to Boardroom – how hiking the West Coast Trail applies to Business

dsc00310I went off the grid for eight days to hike the West Coast Trail in June, rated as one of the hardest hikes in North America.  This is not Everest, but it was my Everest.  How does 91 km over eight days translate to business?  Tons!  While the trail length is 75km, that does not include the elevation kms and getting lost – twice.  Hence our trek was 91km. 

Just like in business, each person has to bring their own set of skills to the table and carry their own weight – together, making the team stronger collectively.  Leading up to our trip, we had to train; that included hours going up and down stairs carrying 30 lbs and long hiking days in the mountains.  I wanted decent upper body strength, so I also really worked on doing full body push ups to help prepare me to carry myself and my 50lb pack up and down 1000+ feet of ladders and root systems.  I even learned how to tie the bowline knot!

dsc00245My friend Theresa and I were a super team. We both had a common goal of succeeding this ahem, “adventure” together safely.  Little did we know this would push our body and minds to the max.  Every year there are between 50 to 100 evacuations of injured people off the West Coast Trail (WCT).  For whatever reason, this year has been the highest year to date for evacuations.  The only way to get off the trail once you start is by evacuation due to serious injury or pay $1000.00.   Neither were an option – at least we hoped.  During our eight-day trek, there were literally hundreds of times a simple slip could have been devastating, even deadly. Log crossings were common, and were my biggest fear.  dsc00266The logs would be anywhere from 3 feet to 30 feet off the ground. Many logs were only as wide as your two feet. Some crossings were up to 200 feet long that either tilted up or down. The thing is though, when you just KNOW you have to do it, that there is no turning back, you find a fortification, an inner strength to move forward, when under normal conditions you would never do something like that.  Just like in business, there are times you have to do things you may not like or know, but it is for the success of dsc00336-1the team.  And that’s what teamwork requires, you to do your part.

There were countless times where we had to discuss the best strategy and route to take, as this trail is so root laden, rocky, muddy, and just so technical to navigate.  The mud!! At least 35+ km of slogging through at times knee deep mud. dsc00271Like a good team, we would talk about options and make decisions to safely get up, over or under our obstacles.  Communication is so important on good teams.  Theresa, for me, was excellent at figuring out the best way around these tricky “routes” ( I loosely call it a route because sometimes you could not even tell there was a trail.) 

dsc00366Everyone comes to the table with their own strengths and limitations.  Good teammates will happily step up to help out.  Theresa knew there would be ladders – tall ladders, but when you are on the trail, with 50 lbs on your back, trying to get on a precarious ladder – it tests your metal.  Day 3 was an 11.5-hour day for us.  This was ladder day (every day was mud day).  Over 500 feet of ladders took you down the valley and then you encountered the same 50 story building height to climb on the way up. The ladders were very high and quite un-nerving. This was starting to take its toll on Theresa. These are the type of ladders you would never see on a job site. They are bare wood often covered with moss or mud, and you are completely untethered.  Theresa’s stress level was very high; this was scary shit we were doing! dsc00425At around the halfway point in the ladders, I made the decision to climb down 300 feet of ladder systems and dropped my pack. I then climbed back up to where Theresa was and took her pack down on my back, so she dsc00397could go down pack free.  I would do it again in a heartbeat!  That’s what good teams do. I won’t lie, it stressed me out too, but seeing Theresa pushing her comfort zone to the max; I wanted to ensure we would be safe. I stepped up because we needed success together.  That day, we overshot our camp, which made us have to go farther than planned, hence the very long day.  Theresa came out of that day with many more scrapes and bruises as she conquered those ladders.  The funny thing about pushing your comfort zone, it is not like an elastic that retains the same shape when released, it is now your new normal.  We teasingly said we were now going to start a Christmas Light company, dsc00330climbing ladders to put up lights. We were going to call it “Light Queens.”  

dsc00426Being proactive in business can keep minor problems from becoming huge issues.  Blisters have been known to knock the strongest of athletes down.  Like in the boardroom and in life, don’t let blisters take you down.  Be proactive, tape your feet – or in business, talk out your concerns constructively and bring ideas to help move the team further.  One grain of sand can be the beginning of the end. Don’t let that little irritation grow into something that is now a huge issue to manage.

Teams need a variety of skills, as well as the right tools for success. Boots, poles, and gaiters are a must.  You are carrying everything you will need on your back, so light weight gear is essential.  Preparation, forethought, and research was a critical step to our success before we even stepped foot on the trail.  This trail is not for Princesses!  Because there were only two of us, we had to carry dsc00398together “must haves” like our stove, tent, tarp, sleeping bags, satellite phone and food which made our pack weight 50lbs.  Water is heavy!! Like in business, there is no use for “fluff” or being indecisive.  For us, that meant only the bare necessities, like 2 t-shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pants because this is not the time to bring your closet with you.  We wore the same clothes for hiking and the same clothes for camp life for eight days.  (I’m sure we smelled great!)dsc00309

One item I was so grateful I brought were simple gardening gloves.  It gave me the confidence to grab muddy roots, rocks, and give me extra grip on the ladders.  They were my “security blanket gloves”.  If you can ever bring a personal tool to help you succeed in business, do it.img_2431

After 8 days, 7 nights, 58 hours of hiking, soaking feet, 91 Km’s, 50 lbs on our back, we made it – Blister Free!  We walked hand in hand the last 100 feet, feeling many types of emotions.  There is no one else I would have made this trip with.  While I missed my husband and two sons, this experience is something I will carry with me my whole life. That shower after eight days was glorious.  The dinner img_2433and drinks after that – divine.  I call the WCT “Beauty and the Beast.”  While it is so beautiful, it is a beast of a trail. 

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3 comments on “From Mud to Boardroom – how hiking the West Coast Trail applies to Business”

  1. Nicole Reply

    Nice story Patty! I hiked the WCT in early 1980’s with my soon to be husband. Gruelling was my word for it. The beauty and magnificence made up for it though! Well done!

  2. Stephan Brandt Reply

    Hey Patty, thanks for sharing the story. Really feeling cemented into the team means going through the much and experiencing the heights together! Great story, and kudos on the huge achievement!

  3. Tracey Reply

    Great story Patty. It brought back wonderful memories of my hike on The West Coast Trail – magical part of the World!

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