How Stressful Situations Can Help Us Grow
Today I’m telling you the story of my bike ride around Lake Brienz in Interlaken, Switzerland in the fall of 2015. If you know me, you’ll know that this is one of my favorite travel stories to tell because it was a truly eye opening and soul changing experience, and one that I will never forget.
Our story begins in Bern, where I was staying in a 6 bed hostel room traveling solo. I had read the night before about a beautiful bike path that went around one of the lakes in Interlaken, and I was determined to try it. That morning, I hopped on a local train and departed an hour later in the tiny town known for extreme sports like paragliding. After finding the bike rental store and being told there was no way to lock it because ‘this is Switzerland, no one will steal it’, I consulted my offline map and started to bike toward what I thought was the beginning of the path.
About 45 minutes later I realized that the ‘path’ was just the side of the road. I made my way down the main street, passing cows and sheep, and pausing to take photos periodically. I was already stunned by the beauty that spread out around me. I’ve never seen water so blue in my life. It was a perfect fall day, crisp and cool but sunny, and I was ecstatic. I stopped for a snack in the next village, and for a cappuccino in the village after that. A bit farther on I saw a large church tower and decided to check it out. I passed more cows grazing in their fields, bells tinkling, parked my bike and walked up to the top of the tower. There was no one around and I could see the entire lake, complete with snow capped mountains and puffy clouds. It’s still one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
Miles and miles I rode, until I came to the halfway mark; a 5 tier waterfall. I knew it was getting late, the sun was beginning to set and I was starting to get a little nervous. The ride had taken me much longer than expected and I had to catch the train back to Bern. I checked my map and couldn’t figure out where the path continued. I backtracked and started up a massive hill, getting off my bike to walk because it was so steep. I checked my map again but I still seemed off; this wasn’t the right way. I went back to the waterfall, but there was only one way up and no way over that I could see. I went back up the hill and now I was really panicking.
I was completely alone. In a foreign country. On top of a mountain. With only a bike and no food. No cell reception. No one to call to help me out. I rode up and down that hill probably four times, going back down to the waterfall and then back up the hill, fruitlessly searching for the right way to go. I was exhausted and I started to cry, chastising myself for being so stupid and not researching the trail more thoroughly.
I was walking my bike up one last street at the very top of the hill as tears ran down my face. I was looking down at the pavement in my frustration when I heard a cow bell tinkle and looked up. I stopped dead in my tracks. There, spread out before me, was a view of the entire lake and all the towns I had ridden through on my way around. Right in front of me was a small farm with a single cow and a well kept house next door. As I stared at the beautiful scenery, all my worry was forgotten. The golden evening light twinkled down on me, the blue waters of the lake looked up at me, the cow munched its grass at me thoughtfully. And suddenly I realized I was not in any danger. I could have gone to any house on that street and asked how to get back to the path, and there is no doubt in my mind that the people living there would have figured out how to help me.
I rode back down the hill, back to the waterfall, and this time I went up the path to the highest part of the falls. There it was, right in front of me the entire time. The path stretched out OVER the waterfall. I rode across the bridge and raced the whole way back to Interlaken. I caught the last train out of the station.
In one day, I had felt the full range of human emotion. The highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. That day taught me something that only experience can. We have to live through those difficult times, where it seems like there is no way forward and we’re riding in circles. We have to learn to see the beauty in those stressful moments, when we feel like all is lost. And never forget, the path is right there in front of you, but if you can’t see it you can always ask for help.
Now, you don’t have to go all the way to Switzerland to gain this knowledge. ANY situation we put ourselves that feels uncomfortable or unfamiliar is going to teach us something. When we try new things, or learn a new skill, or meet new people we might feel this way. When we do things by ourselves we might feel this way. And even though it may be difficult to get through it in the moment, it’s the reflection and growth afterwards that matter most. So challenge yourself; you’ll gain confidence and strength you never knew you had.