Five Lessons I Learned Along The Nakasendo Trail That Will Help You Weather The Current Storm

Updated: Feb 14


Village to Nakasendo Trail
Village to Nakasendo Trail

As part of our preparation for Everest Base Camp in support of mental health, my husband and I hiked the Nakasendo Trail in Japan in May 2019. Seven days, 130 kilometres (80 miles), with everything we needed on our backs.


The Nakasendo (中山道, Central Mountain Route) connected Kyoto and Tokyo during the Edo period (1603-1868) and meanders its way through 69 post towns which served as rest areas for travelers along this ancient route. The Trail traverses country roads; forests of cedar, cypress, and bamboo; and picturesque villages, A number of these villages have been beautifully preserved, and some businesses there, including ryokans (or traditional inns), have been in operation for hundreds of years.


On the seventh and final day of our journey, the weather took a turn for the worse. Instead of the crisp blue skies we had grown accustomed to, we awoke to a thick cover of grey clouds, heavy mist, a steady drizzle, and chilly temperatures. That day, as we braved the elements, I had an abundance of time to contemplate five lessons which I believe are apt metaphors for how we can weather the storm wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nakasendo Trail on Tokyo
Nakasendo Trail on Tokyo

1. Don’t Let A Little Rain Put You Off


Quite frankly, the day looked miserable from the start. We had 16 kilometres (10 miles) to cover, including what appeared to be a strenuous uphill climb to cross the final mountain pass. It would have been easier to hop on the next train back to Tokyo. However, we agreed that having come this far, aborting the mission wasn’t really an option. And anyway, what’s a few drops of rain?


Life is filled with uncertainties, and we can find a hundred reasons why we should not wake up early to exercise, embark on a new project, or reinvent our careers. Rather than letting obstacles hold us back, half the battle is about jumping in and giving it our best shot.


2. Push Ahead When The Going Gets Tough

As the hours and minutes ticked by, temperatures fell to a bitter 11 degrees Celsius (51 degrees Fahrenheit) while the incessant rain tested our resilience. Trudging along the dreary path, in silent contemplation, my backpack felt heavier by the minute.


We were soaked, and after six straight days of full-on hikes, my muscles were screaming. And yet we persevered. Don’t let the trials and tribulations along the way obscure your end game vision. You, too, can do it!

Agematsu Bridge at Nakasendo Trail
Agematsu Bridge

3. Stop To Help


A few hours into our hike, we came across a man - a trauma surgeon from Seattle, we later learned - who had fallen and clearly was in no position to walk. Lending a hand would mean re-tracing our steps (twice!) along the same track that led into the thick forest, which would easily set us back by an hour or more.


We eventually managed to help him get to a road where he was met by a vehicle and taken to the hospital. My hope is that as we emerge from this pandemic, we remember to stop and help each other out, even if it results in a temporary detour from our path. After all, each of us depends on the kindness of strangers.


5. Be Prepared


Over six glorious days of clear skies and sunshine, each time we had to navigate a particularly steep

portion of the trail, I wondered (often aloud!) if we ought to have left our rain gear behind. Every extra bit of weight makes a difference. But here we were, day seven, and what had seemed of dubious value turned out to be a life saver.


The time to prepare for the future is now. Reflect on your professional and personal goals and take action to equip yourself for the rainy days ahead.


Slippery road on Nakasendo Trail
Slippery road on Nakasendo Trail

6. Don’t Go It Alone


That day, we hiked in the rain for a total of seven hours. To be honest, I vacillated between feeling like a soggy puppy and a frosty icicle the entire time! Had I embarked on this journey alone, odds are that I would have given up early in the day.


Navigating the headwinds on the horizon will not be easy. Make sure you have somebody by your side who can cheer you on, provide an extra push when you need it, help work through challenges, or simply serve as an extra pair of hands.


No storm lasts forever. As I learned on the Nakasendo Trail, what matters is showing up, staying the course, lending a hand, anticipating change, and having a support structure. Stay strong. Be well.


----- This article was first published in an e-book I curated comprising a series of articles by 19 professional speakers and thought leaders. Packed with practical lessons, insightful perspectives, and uplifting inspiration... Get your free copy here!