There Are No Dead-Ends

Have you ever wandered countless miles down a trail, only to come to a dead-end? This could be a wide open meadow, where the trail gradually peters out. It could be at a cliff, overlooking a rushing river below. It could seem like the trail lead nowhere nor yielded any real destination point. We often want a significant landmark to turn around at or to focus on getting to. And when there isn’t one… when there’s not any definite reason for the journey, it feels pointless.

It’s not.

I’ve wandered down countless trails, exploring them and hoping they lead me to something interesting or somehow connected, forming a loop, only to find myself looking down at the thick grass below my feet. I’m now faced with a dilemma: do I continue on in hopes of finding the trail again? Or do I turn back and search for a more promising trail and outcome? Maybe I do a little of both? Each time it’s circumstantial and depends on how comfortable you are and what you’re truly trying to achieve. If you have a goal for time, distance and destination in mind and you’ve determined where you’re at is not where you want or should be, then the decision to turn around is quite clear.

Often times, however, this isn’t so. The spirit of exploration and adventure reigns supreme in many of our hearts. The thought of missing something, a view, a beautiful stream, a wild animal, grips at us as we debate on what we should do and how far we should go.

Is turning around “giving up”?

No. Turning around is a lot of things, but it’s not giving up. Even when there is a set destination, an “out-and-back” trail can seem “unproductive” because we are walking back the same direction we came from. An alternative that seems more productive would be a loop. But both accomplish the same thing in that it’s not about the destination, but rather about the journey.


This is a common saying… and a well-known way of thinking. Yet given that it would likely be agreed on by almost all people, it remains in the “sounds good” section of our brains without further thought as to what it is really meaning and saying. And we like to make exceptions to this, such as “What about dead-ends? I had to backtrack 4 miles because I took the wrong turn.” What is left out and not considered are the sights seen along the way, even if it was the “wrong way”. Did you see blooming wildflowers? Cross clear mountain brooks? Take in more crisp outdoor air? Discover a “secret spot” you want to return to at some point? Sure this path wasn’t on the agenda, but its now become part of your adventure. How can you just ignore all that was experienced?

To me, a dead-end is only a waste of time if you disregard all that you endeavored in during the journey — the lessons learned, the knowledge gained, the growth through the thoughts that occupied your mind during that time…


When reflecting on past experiences in life or even looking at where it seems I’m currently going, it can feel, and maybe even appear to others, that I didn’t take the most direct path to where I’m trying to go. That I should have made better choices and chosen smarter options, which would have taken me on a more direct route to fulfill my goals and dreams. Through these thoughts and hearing it from others, it can be pretty easy to get down and feel I haven’t even made progress. That I’m currently backtracking or not even headed in the right direction… but each experience, no matter its relevance to my overall goals and dreams, has sculpted who I am. And why would I want to change that? Instead, I have been working on accepting my current circumstances, appreciating the good from my past ones and am focusing more on what I can do now to continue towards the goals I’m striving for.

To me, if we see a situation or circumstance as a “dead-end”, we immediately discredit anything we may have gained from the experience that could prove helpful in the future. Sure, it may not have been the most ideal path to take, but we’ve taken it and there is no changing that — so what can we get from it?


Instead, consider a dead-end, not a dead-end, but a detour, a reroute or simply an addition you used to gain more insight applicable to a bigger adventure.

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North Fork of Cascade Canyon Trail, Grand Teton National Park

I’d like to hear from you about how do your thoughts on “dead-ends” compare to mine. How have you handled “dead-ends”? Have you let them discourage you? If so, what did you do to overcome and learn from it? Or have they helped you broaden your mindset and perspective in order to continue further on the path you want?

Feature Image: Grand Targhee Resort. Photo Credit: Snow + stick + branch

Aaron Written by:

Advocate for wildlife, land, bicycling, curiosity and deep thinking | Nebraskan currently based in the Tetons

  • Christine Pearson

    Hey! I came across your blog since I follow you on IG-awesome thoughts on all your posts! I’ve enjoyed all of them and I look forward to reading more. πŸ™‚ So when is the book coming out?? ;D

    • Wow! Thank you Christine! You just made my day πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ I would love to write a book someday. I think I’ll eventually be inspired by a topic, just a matter of time! Thanks so much for reading all my posts!

    • Wow! Thank you Christine! You just made my day πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ I would love to write a book someday. I think I’ll eventually be inspired by a topic, just a matter of time! Thanks so much for reading all my posts!