Outdoors/Adventure

Loving the journey can be hard when it’s the destination you want

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: August 29
  • Published August 29

"The journey is the destination."

That's the kind of phrase I see on top a photo of a woman doing yoga on a shimmering beach somewhere.

Even though I know it's true, I'm irritated by the context. I'm big on people who do yoga, but for me the canned inspirational stuff is about as profound as motivational posters they sell at Office Depot.

And I'll let you in on a secret. I may say I believe the journey is in fact the destination, but I don't always act like it.

I read the accounts of people getting back from their once-in-a-lifetime shot at climbing Denali or Everest, having been thwarted by circumstances near the top. They didn't make it. "The journey is the destination" is invoked at some point in their tale.

On the one hand, I absolutely believe them. I simply do not possess the fortitude, or lung strength, to get as far as they do, which means I have awe for their strength. Sometimes circumstances are simply beyond our control. And if Jon Krakauer taught me anything, it's that the desire to reach a peak can prove deadly.

That is humbling, in a profound way. Sometimes the most diligent representation of the human will is about exercising judgment and restraint over the kind of "come hell or high water" attitude we Americans are famous for (see also: arrogance).

Yet, part of me also thinks: but you didn't achieve your goal. You set out for the top. And it didn't work out. Wasn't that supposed to be the destination?

When you reflect on your journey, are you somehow emotionally coercing yourself into changing the destination to mean "what I actually did" because you simply could not achieve the original goal?

Of course it's so easy for me to wonder about this from this nice chair at a table with my fingers poised over a keyboard that is hooked up to electricity, in a heated room that has four walls and a ceiling. And adequate oxygen. I have respect for the decisions of people that make bold choices and really try. It's what life is about, and the beauty is we can't control any of it.

But there are those mountaintops out there. There are those distinct destinations. I still carry around that part of me, probably young and unwise, that thinks sure, the journey is the destination — but getting there is better.

There. There's that arrogance. But I'm confronting it because I've been thinking about setbacks recently, and how they show up and fit in my life and goals.

It's small stuff. I had the longest run of my training schedule last week, and I didn't complete it in full. About two-third of the way through, my lungs felt tight and hurt a little. Maybe it was residual smoke impacting my lungs from a quick trip to wildfire-hazy Seattle earlier that week, or maybe it was someone burning a heap of trash in my neighborhood (stranger things happen in the Butte). But I stopped short of my goal because I didn't feel well.

And now I have a head cold that I'm hoping doesn't head to my lungs. Ah, the old breathing bags. My Achilles heel. My lungs are the first to pick up on something wrong, and usually the first to get sick. My race is in two-and-a-half weeks.

These setbacks ain't no whiteout on the top of Everest. But this whole "journey is the destination" thing becomes comforting when the destination gets elusive. It challenges me to evaluate why I'm doing what I'm doing.

Is it for bragging rights? So I can say "I completed this run; I ran this race"?

Is it to challenge some internal sense of self worth? "I think I'm only good for THIS much but let's see if I can reach the next level?"

Is it simply for the satisfaction of working hard and completing a goal in full?

When I'm honest with myself, I realize that while I wish it was absolutely and purely about the last explanation — simple work and satisfaction — it's actually probably a combination of the three.

My pride is wrapped up in telling people I am going to do a thing, and then doing it. My ego is tempted into going all in to what that says about who I am as a human. And it simply feels worthy and good as a pursuit in and of itself.

In the end, I give the things I choose to do exactly what I can. I calculate sacrifices I'm willing to make, and those I am not. Sometimes I screw that calculus up; sometimes I get arrogant. But ultimately I don't have control over anything other than myself — and even then I have limits that only I can determine.

Ultimately I know the journey is the destination to be true, even if it challenges my more comfortable straightforward narrative about what achievement looks like.

I'm adapting, slowly. I'm growing in my own way, even if it's in a different way than I'm used to.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be on the shoulder of some great mountain, with all of the hope and hard work embodied in that. I'm experiencing a very mini-version of that and making decisions accordingly.

But even though the lesson here is slowly sinking in, don't expect to see any inspirational posters on my wall. I'll just keep on with my muttering, and my running when I am able.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.