I always thought I was a hard worker that met a lot of resistance. Sometimes the resistance is crippling depression. Sometimes I want things to be so perfect, I fail to even start, because I fear I will never be where I want to be.
I rolled out of bed on Sunday after about 3.5 hours of sleep (first mistake) after my regularly scheduled Saturday night shift at the restaurant. I leave the house at 5am to pick up my friend. We drive out to Breckenridge, CO quietly, not really knowing what to expect out of our first fourteener. A fourteener is a mountain that exceeds 14,000 feet in elevation. I had asked him on Friday night, and he emphatically said yes, and became the only person that ended up going with me.
We start the hike at the trailhead around 11,000 feet, and it becomes apparent very soon that the elevation is going to kick our ass. I eat my Energy Bloks (why do companies insist on spelling things incorrectly as their names, what’s the appeal to that?). I slip on some shoe spikes underneath my sneakers (second mistake, sneakers) when it became apparent there was going to be snow on the ground the whole way. My neighbor kindly lent me her Camelbak (another “k” instead of “ck” name), shoe spikes, and poles. I ended up giving the poles to my friend because he didn’t even have shoe spikes with his sneakers. I traded him for a walking stick we found by the trailhead.
We took frequent breaks, and encountered the first guy who zoomed past us, hating him and his stupid fitness. We got to a bridge and saw someone drew on the snow, “You can do it, Julia!” We were wondering about Julia and writing Julia inspirations on the snow the rest of the way, until our legs felt like jello and our hearts felt like they were going to give out. There were two parts that were flat the entire time, shortly after the bridge, and the 1000 feet gain to the summit. I would say that things started getting worse for me when the treeline disappeared. It started to get even steeper, people kept passing us, and every time we reach a ridge, there was something higher. By the time we get to the second flat part of the whole hike, I couldn’t even enjoy it, because my right hip flexor was killing me, and my legs felt like those robot legs that didn’t have knees.
Then came that huge steep hill. There were a few people with grey hair that were passing us. Now the real April comes out: stubborn and hardheaded. I could tell my friend wants to give up. The need to give up actually strengthens the closer you get to the top. Some guy passing us earlier mentioned feeling like death, and he was fitter than us; imagine how he felt when he reached that last steep part. Then imagine how we felt. But some guy coming down had told us that it was 45 minutes from the bottom of that insane incline! I’d like to track this guy down, go up there with him to that very spot, hike up to the summit, and time how long it takes him, because he is crazy. We get to about halfway through this steep climb, hacking and wheezing from lack of oxygen. We are past 13,000 feet elevation, and another guy comes down telling us it would take us another 1.5 hours to reach the summit, seeing as how it took us 5 hours to even get to where we were at. The risk of thunderstorm is always very real after noon, even on this sunny day. I give up my pride and we decide to head back down. It may have been less than a mile away, but it meant risking getting struck, and still hiking down when the sun sets.
Our hearts stopped pounding and our lungs stopped trying to kill us, but fear began to set in. It’s no easy task going down a snowy mountain. I lost count how many times I slipped and fell. It was one of the worst feelings to be so fatigued, but feel fear when going down the same steep hill, knowing you have 5 more hours ahead of you. But things do get worse of course. The sun melted a lot of the snow, to the point where it becomes slushy. Even a small amount of decline becomes very slippery with slush. That was pretty much the whole way down while hungry and tired. Just like how it felt when reaching closer to the summit, the closer we got to the end, the more I felt like it was endless. I laughed when we approached the bridge again, when we thought how difficult the hike was so far on the way up. As we got closer to the bottom, slush traded in for slippery mud. The last thing I wanted was to slip on mud to end the hike. We took the actual marked trail back down in the last half mile, but that made things even scarier. I genuinely thought we were going to be there endlessly. I was starting to feel delirious. I didn’t want to lose my mind. My friend could not track our location on his phone. I didn’t think my weathered phone could track our location, but we finally pulled it out and the GPS location showed that we were practically right next to the road. We were just a few hundred feet in distance right when I thought I was going to go insane and that my body was going to give out.
What does this all equate to? We were sitting at Breckenridge Brewery thirty minutes later, and my mind already started to rationalize it. “That wasn’t so bad. I don’t regret doing it.” Meanwhile, thirty minutes ago, I thought I was participating in a Death March. Even I thought I was crazy. I probably have about 5% idea why people decide to hike Mount Everest now. We (humans) deliberately put ourselves in danger and we test the limits of our mind and body. There are people who decide to run 4 desert ultramarathons within a year. I could probably spend the rest of my life in safety, hoping to die of old age or a shark attack. I would be miserable.
I was telling the story the day after to someone as I was hobbling around, lifting my right leg just to get it up one step ladder. He said, “Sounds like you had a terrible time.” I said I didn’t have a terrible time at all, and he laughed. I couldn’t explain to him why the experience was something I would never take away from myself. My friend who accompanied me felt the same way. I went home later that day and I read about getting in shape. I have never wanted to be in shape more than I do now. I learned that we are all “designed to be active.” If we cannot find something that makes us want to move, we need to keep trying different activities until we do. I came across a wonderful article written by Henry Rollins.
“I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness.
Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.
People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole. I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke.”
I knew I was building an iron will and strength when I was up there. After the massive winter Boston went through and the onset depression, all I wanted to do was to be able to walk outside. When the weather became warmer, I walked outside. Then I walked outside further away from the city. And now here I am, one of those crazy people who wants to cross through rivers and conquer mountains, because pain is my call to greatness. In order to expand the freedom in my mind even further, I need to expand the freedom of my body even further. On the mountain, I finally beat Resistance.