6 Business Lessons from Hiking the Colorado Trail
This summer I took a 5-week sabbatical to walk the 500-mile Colorado Trail. I wanted to be immersed in the wilds and to challenge my mental and physical capabilities. My business partner took over the reins while I was out. Interestingly, the same skillset that I honed on my hike can be used to run our marketing business and sometimes vice versa. Here is what I learned out there:
1. Extreme self-reliance
On the trail — especially if you are hiking solo — you must rely on yourself for every detail; starting from equipment & route selection, to water supply management, to food planning & cooking and your daily goals & schedule. You are the CEO of your trip and the only assistant you might have is a partner back home to send supplies. But perhaps the most demanding solo task is mental health; the art of keeping up motivation and cheer no matter the ups or downs.
Looking back at 20 years of running OpenMoves, I think the key ingredient to business longevity, just as it was on the trail, is emotional stability; the ability to bounce back from setbacks and not be addicted to the highs of short term success. And maybe the biggest one is not being afraid of entering the canyons of uncertainty.
An epic adventure is like a startup: A clear objective, a handful of prioritized metrics, and a defined mission will guide you to success. Step one is setting up a realistic timeline. Thru-hikers are consumed by pre-trip planning: gear, route, food, etc. I had a multi-tab spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I knew what kind of food I was shipping where and when. I also had a guide book, an abridged Databook, and a trail app powered by GPS that told me where I was to within 10 feet at any given time, where the water sources were located for the day, and where the best camping spots are.
Of course, without daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual planning it’s hard to run an efficient business. That kind of thinking transplanted into my planning and organization skills for the trail. I ran the adventure like I would a project at OpenMoves complete with spreadsheets, shared folders with outfitters, to-do lists and reminders. This was an example where my experience in managing business processes was an asset on the trail. Being adept in social media helped me get and share essential information with a Colorado Trail Facebook Group both well before the trip and during.
The art of simplicity was perhaps the greatest takeaway from the trail experience: one of everything except socks; best if something can be use in multiple ways. For example, my trekking poles become part of the infrastructure for my tent. If it wasn’t used in a week’s time it was sent home. By the end of the trip my pack weighed 15 lbs. w/o food and fuel and less than 30 lbs. fully loaded for a week with water.
Same goes for shedding recurring credit charges and unnecessary subscriptions, or inefficient and bloated processes that need streamlining, unnecessary office space or technology. If I was going through my pack once a week on the trail, I think I’ll do the same with my business once a year. Lean and simple is how best to move forward.
4. Endurance for the long run
So there is a name for it. I’m not a section hiker, or a micro-hiker or a camper. I am a thru-hiker. I cover distances and I live on the trail. I don’t make a comfy camp that resembles a living room at the end of the day and roast marshmallows into the night (though it could be fun). When I survey a landscape, my first impulse is to walk thru it. To absorb what I can and to choose a couple of spots each day to dwell in. It doesn’t mean I won’t stop to watch a butterfly warm itself on a rock, but I rarely linger.
Running a business also requires a long view and having the staying power and discipline for the long run. It’s the day in and day out rigor of putting one step in front of the other that moves you forward both in the office and on the trail. Short cuts typically don’t work. Running a business and thru hiking are about the long game.
5. Communications and technology
Those hikers who embraced the technology available for the trail had an easier and safer hike. Starting with the above-mentioned Colorado Trail App that marked your location, water, and camping spots, to a satellite texting device that could relay your condition and exact location to a rescue team, if necessary. And like the WAZE app, the hiking community could send updates to the app with real-time trail data; very useful in dry conditions.
In the business world using and managing technology is essential to being competitive. We are continuously evaluating new communication and reporting platforms to improve teamwork and our ability to serve our clients.
Amazingly, both my business and my trail logistics were managed from my iPhone on the trail it also worked with an InReach satellite transmitter. It’s nice to turn off technology, but it’s great to turn it on when you need it.
At the outset, I woke up in a cold sweat in my Denver hotel room thinking that in a couple of days I must abandon all this comfort, shoulder my pack, and walk into the Colorado Trail alone. I think the alone thing is the main fear. I’ve had pre-trip anxieties before but going solo is a whole different thing. All the stuff that could go wrong…and then being all alone in your head to decide what’s real and what’s not. Fear management would be key to completing this trail.
Learning to grapple with fear also is part of any business owner’s life. Many sleepless nights before big meetings and presentations, travel, cashflow crunches, conflicts with clients and employees, taxes, the list goes on. There is always something to worry about, but the solution to fear is simple; get out of your head, put one foot in front of the other and breathe. It’s in the doing that fear gets alchemized into useful actions both on the trail and off.
When it’s all said and done, none of these journeys, whether outside or in the office, are accomplished alone. I remember somewhere during that first day on the trail, when I settled into my rhythm and all the hard work was starting to pay off, I felt an overwhelming gratitude for all the people who helped me get here. Yes, in life or in business – there is really no such thing as solo!
Ronen is a partner at OpenMoves, a digital company focused on search marketing and automation. If you need help planning your walkabout contact Ronen, if you need help getting your online business in order, contact us. More pictures and stories on Instagram: @ronen_yaari