Counting steps

When I was in Namibia I was following around baboons in a desert landscape. We followed them all day, from sunrise to sunset. And even though I loved the experience, it wasn’t always easy.

It was the African winter, which meant near freezing night temperatures while you’re sleeping in your tent. Then there were the early rises, before sunset (maybe around 5AM), to make sure we’d get to the troop in time. That required a physically hard walk, which was especially daunting if the baboons were on a far away sleeping cliff. There was the carrying around five litres of water to stay properly hydrated during the long warm days. And only then there was the actual follow of the troop during the day, wherever they went.

I remember a day when the baboons were in the river bed, one of the most densely vegetated areas in the region. Even then the vegetation was scarce, it being a desert and all, and the sun was high and hot. The baboons seemed particularly restless, forcing us to walk many kilometers. I was tired, hot, thirsty and just wanted to sit down in the shade and rest. But I couldn’t.

Before going to Namibia I had watched the movie Wild. The movie is based on an autobiographical book where the main character, Cheryl Strayed, decides to hike 1800 km (1100 mi) on the Pacific Crest Trail in the US to find herself. In the narrative, Cheryl said she sometimes simply counted the steps she was making when the walking became too demanding. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, all the way to one hundred. And then she would start again. 

I decided to give it a try and started measuring the traveled distance in steps. One, two, three, four… I got to fifty, before I acknowledged that this was too much for me. It was too hard to count all the way to a hundred. The sun was too hot, my backpack too heavy, the baboons traveled too fast. Twenty? Would I be able to count to twenty? I tried, but I couldn’t. Even twenty steps seemed to take too long.

So I settled for counting until ten and going on repeat. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. One, two, three… One foot after another, in the loose sand that made each step heavier than it should have been. It had something meditative, focusing solely on putting one foot in front of the other. It got me through the day.

Sometimes we have to adapt to our surroundings. Sometimes we’re placed in demanding situations, that push us to our limits. Don’t think it’s weak to adjust to those situations. To find the right pace, or the mind set that helps you to cope better. If that’s what will get you through the day, that’s what you’ll need to do. The baboons didn’t spent all their days in the sandy river bed, and neither will you spend all your time in that hard situation.