“It’s not as bad as the Smokies.” ~ Dave Woodard

My son, Dave, is hiking the Appalachian Trail. He’s attempting a through hike – the entire 2,200 miles at one time. He began in mid-March at Springer Mountain, GA and will finish up at the trail’s northern terminus, Mount Katahdin, ME in early October. He just crossed into New Hampshire and he’s tackling the challenging White Mountains.

That’s him with one of the wild ponies that visited his campsite near Roan Mountain in Tennessee.

10.a.DPW and Wild Pony 3


Whenever he gets to a re-supply town, we talk by phone, or FaceTime if the Wi-Fi signal is strong enough. I always try and ask him what he’s learned on the current leg of his trek.

Awhile ago, we were able to have a long chat. He needed to take a few days off the trail to attend a family function. He was waiting for his ride at a nearby Starbucks.

Resilience on the AT

I asked him how things were going. He mentioned that the weather had changed dramatically. When he started out in GA, it was pretty cold with temps hitting around 10 degrees at night. As he progressed along the trail, the weather became less cold, but it rained. A lot. In the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, he hiked one day in a four-hour, driving rain coming at him sideways. The wind blew the rain cover off his pack soaking its contents. During that time, his hike reached elevations of 5,000 to 6,000 feet. The Smoky Mountains were miserable; not exactly a stroll in the woods.

Then the weather shifted dramatically. Dave said it was like a switch was thrown; it went from cold and rainy to hot and humid. And buggy.

He lathered himself in insect repellant in the morning, but within a couple of hours he had sweated it all off. He was constantly fighting the gnats, flies, and mosquitos. With the high temps and humidity, he had to keep himself more hydrated, which meant he had to be constantly aware of his water supply situation.

I asked how he was doing. His response: “I just keep telling myself, it’s not as bad as the Smokies.”

This led to a conversation about resilience. To me, it seemed that prior trail experience didn’t seem to help in his current conditions. We talked about how the trail doesn’t seem to get easier as one goes along. In fact, the part of the AT with the toughest reputation is the New Hampshire/Maine section at the end. So it doesn’t necessarily get easier as you go along.

Accepting the New Reality

Resilience is adapting to adversity and stress in our lives – family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It’s bouncing back from difficult experiences.

Elizabeth Edwards, an attorney, who was married to the presidential candidate John Edwards and died of cancer in 2010 said, “resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.”

Dave mentioned that he was learning to adapt to each section of the trail and the experience it provided. Being a father, I was quick to point out that the lessons he’s learning will serve him well throughout his life.

Career Resilience

Michele Martin describes the four patterns of career resilience to survive in today’s uncertain world of work. These patterns of clarity, connecting, creating and coping provide understanding and awareness, a network of people we can count on, actions we can take, and the emotional management to move forward in uncertain and stressful times.

Michele writes that we no longer follow a straight-line career path to a dream job, and we need to be “agile, flexible, and adaptable. We need to see opportunity in challenges and to develop our capacity to deal with constantly changing parameters and requirements.” Resilience helps us adapt to changes in our lives and accept the new reality as an opportunity rather than an insurmountable obstacle.

Interestingly, the American Psychological Association notes that resilience is not extraordinary. It’s not a trait that people either possess or not. Instead, resilience involves learned behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be developed by anyone.

What About You?

What’s been your experience in building resilience? What behaviors, strategies and actions do you incorporate to maintain resilience in the face of uncertainty and stress? How do you keep moving forward on your trail?


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