To anyone who's visited this breathtaking, glacier-fed lake in west central Alberta, Canada, no other identification is necessary. If you’ve been there, it’s etched in your memory. There is no other Lake Louise.
One of Canada’s dignified resort hotels rests at the southern end of the deep green body of water, a man-made reflection of the majestic Canadian Rockies that embrace the lake. A paved, "gentleman’s walkway" along the waterfront begins at the hotel but becomes a hiker’s path into the surrounding forest after a partial circuit of the lake.
More Than Just a Trail
My only visit to this life-size terrarium of beauty happened in 1983 when Nancy and I spent an extended vacation in western Canada. The beginning of the walk into the mountains is fodder for postcards and travel brochures—the handsome hotel against a regal backdrop of snow-spattered mountainsides. The end of the walk from the hotel, though, is what changed my life.
Eight miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain later, the trail ends at the Plain of Six Glaciers. When I arrived there, I gazed for several minutes, awestruck by the other-worldly beauty of rock walls, boulder fields, and glaciers. Small avalanches echoed off the cliffs. The adventure of being there was a magnet for my soul, and I thought, I want to live my life beyond the end of the trail.
The danger of stepping off the trail and onto the glaciers that day kept me from moving ahead, but the image became a metaphor for how to live. Although there was ease and predictability back on the gentleman's walkway, the adventure of life lay beyond.
So how do you live beyond the end of the trail? You need to know what you're doing.
To extend the metaphor just a bit: Hiking off trail requires special preparation. Knowing how to read a compass, follow a topographic map, understand directions and sun angles are needed skills. Preparing with food, water, and proper clothing is essential. Leaving the trail half-cocked is to plan for disaster.*
Finally — and possibly most crucial — you need to be willing to endure a bit of tough going as you make your own way. (See my post "Letting Go of Easy" for encouragement about why Different is worth the trouble.)
The same is true for leaving the standard trail of how to do life.
The rewards are astounding — a richness of experience beyond imagining,
and the satisfaction of knowing you didn't just wonder what a better life might be like.
You actually went out and did it!
* I could tell you my story of near-disaster in leaving a trail without adequate preparation--but that is perhaps for another post. I can assure you, though, that it's a mistake you only make once. Either you survive and realize how critical it is to avoid the same situation in the future, or, well, the alternative. And about prep work: Start with assessing how ready you are to do Different.
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