When to Leave the Beaten Path and When to Stay

R. H. Roberts with Dina

Hiking Buddies

Recently I hiked Falcon Hill in Mesa, AZ, with my cousin Dina. It’s a fun climb, with meandering trails that disappear amid cacti , boulders, and loose gravel. There’s really no wrong way to the top, but some paths are definitely easier than others. Regardless, the view is worth the effort it takes to get there.

Mesa and Superstition Mountains

Mesa and Superstition Mountains

Since this is Dina’s stomping grounds, she led the way. The next day, I returned alone and hiked up the backside of the hill, a much less-traveled area with scarcely any paths. I spent most my time skirting boulders and prickly plants, trying to find a few feet of sand and grit that resembled a trail. It was fun, challenging, and exhilarating once I made it to the top. There is definitely something to be said for the sense of accomplishment you gain from blazing your own trail.

Falcon Hill, Mesa, AZ

Where’s the path?

But it’s often not necessary. There were plenty of great paths leading up from the park. These still covered steep ground and necessitated climbing over or around boulders and dodging spiky vegetation. But these trails were better established and resulted in a much easier journey.

One of the many trails on Falcon Hill

One of the many trails on Falcon Hill

When I hiked with Dina, she was a great guide, pointing out prickly plants and pulling them aside so they wouldn’t snag my clothes or skin. As someone quite familiar with the area, this was second nature for her. When I hiked by myself, I overlooked quite a few brambles and one particularly nasty green bush with two-inch-long spikes. Honestly, they looked like cute little branches to me. Needless to say, they weren’t. And my shins suffered.

The Cute Little Plant that Shredded my Shins

The Cute Little Plant that Shredded my Shins

Often we pay a steep price when we choose to blaze our own trail. Many people have gone before us. Friends and mentors can save us from pains far worse than scratched shins.

For example, when I first started writing, I simply sat down at my computer and decided to write a novel. The height of hubris, really. I believed all I needed to do was try. And while I would never minimize the value of our own effort or the worth of our own inspiration, I must confess that my writing process would’ve been much easier if I’d just thought to find out some basics before I’d started.

As I completed my hike, I noticed quite a bit of trash along the trail. And while I valued the path left behind by those who’d gone before me, I certainly did not appreciate the junk.


Sweat pants

Yikes…someone left their pants!


Which begs the question, what are we leaving behind us for those that will follow? Are we leaving a legacy of integrity, bravery, good choices? Or are we leaving a host of garbage for someone else to cope with? Are we the kind of people who make life easier for others or do we leave chaos and destruction in our wake?

As Longfellow wrote in A Psalm of Life,

Psalm of Life meme

Why do people try to figure things out on their own when there’s plenty of help available? What have you learned from that experience? How have others blazed a trail for you?