I went for a hike at Great Sand Dunes National Park. My route was to the top of 700 foot tall dunes starting at over 7,000 feet elevation. Great Sand Dunes is a popular park and this was Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. By 10:30 a.m. there were already a lot of people plodding their way up.

Even though I’m in good running shape when I hit the steeper climbs in the high altitude I started to strain. Every step resulted in a little backward slide that made progress slow. I actively thought, “What could make this easier?” I began to experiment.

Stepping on the mounds of sand at the heel of an old footprint didn’t help. That wake was soft and slid downwards easily. Stepping in a spot devoid of a footprint was a little better. There was a little resistance before creating my own mark.

The best approach I found was to step directly into an existing footprint. The sand was already compressed and I didn’t sink as much. I seemed to make better time working with the footprints than stepping around them.

I contemplated this as I worked. The footprints were not straight: they zig-zagged from side to side, sometimes requiring a short step, sometimes a long one. They were not all made by the same person. However, collectively, they were helping me toward my goal.

Despite those that had come before me I was still on my own path. I was still going in my own direction. I may get to the same place as others but it would not be the same journey they travelled. I took my own steps.

This train of thought stayed with me for a long while. I was taking the best of what others had laid out before me. I was allowing myself to be guided. In the past, I’ve often struggled with needing to figure things out on my own rather than following another’s blueprint or asking for help. If I didn’t do it myself then was the accomplishment really mine?

I began to think that not even trailblazers start unguided. They learn skills and acquire knowledge from others. Once they’ve learned from following, they are ready to cut that new path.

My traveling over the past year has allowed me time to contemplate what I’ve learned and what I still have to learn. I’ve thought about how open I am (or not) to feedback, direction and help. I take this type of internal discussion as growth but also recognition that I need to embrace this even more.

I’m certainly not a trailblazer yet but I’m certainly on a new course of exploration and that is a big first step.