Sufferin’ Succotash

Pt Powell

“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.” ~Winston Churchill

Although my legs had 2 hours to warm-up, they were full of lead; burning with each half-step I took up the 30-degree, talus slope.  My breathing was out of rhythm and it felt like there was even more talus in my head due to the 6-hour drive and 4- hours of restless sleep from camping out next to my car in the parking lot the night before.  I was only at 9,000 ft and looking up at the 4,620 ft I needed to gain across inhospitable terrain (more talus, snow fields and frigid snow-melt river-crossings) to get to the top of 13,620 ft Point Powell.  It all seemed further away than the galaxy that George Lucas created (where he only went 2 for 6).

And that would just be the halfway point.

I suffered every step of that trip, yet somehow when I was less than a mile from the car — cuts all-over my legs, soaking wet pants from glissading down the snow fields with a misstep onto a loose log crossing Blue Lake, and a 2-inch layer of Sierra dirt over everything else that managed to stay dry – I was grinning ear-to-ear.  My climbing partner and I were even planning our next adventure with a enthusiam that completely ignored the last 15 hours.

Were we completely insane?  13 hours earlier everything inside of me wanted to be sitting at a cafe in San Francisco with my friends eating a fat brunch and drinking too much way too early.  Instead, I spent it in a constant state of punishment.

Like many other axioms in life, this dynamic is built on a paradox: the process of intentionally suffering ultimately leads to tranquility and completeness.  At the beginning of the trip, my body was out of sync; flailing and looking for a way out.  Yet with each step, my mind would relax and focus with my steps harmonizing with my breath.  Although the air was getting thinner as I gained altitude, my breathing became restful and constant.  It was still just as painful, but I’d transcended.  I’d found my groove.

There is a common bond that Adventure Travelers and outdoor enthusiasts share to varying degrees with each other: it isn’t often about “trill seeking” for its own sake.  Of course, one does not need to dash up and down 13,000+ ft mountains to get to the same place.  The rush that comes through suffering is an act of consciousness: putting your neck on the line and pushing your mind and/or body beyond its limits produces clarity of vision and tests your heart.

Taking yourself out of a comfortable place, steering into an unknown and difficult path ultimately clarifies your vision and tests your heart.  You adapt as you go.  As a result, you end up seeing the world in a much different way – it is just as crazy as it ever was, but you hit your groove and start to roll with it a little better.

So, don’t put off that “adventure” you are dreaming about because it just seems like it will be a little tough to manage or that it seems a little ambitious due to work/family/jai-alai practice or anything other rational excuse that everyone else has to deal with.  You’ll be glad you did it.

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