"We Totally Underestimated This..."
The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats.
The White Rim Trail is a hundred-mile loop through Utah’s alien desert of bronze cliffs, gravity-defying spires and arches, and red sand that gathers in old river beds and holds your tires with indifference to your suffering. It’s no wonder they named the park “Island in the Sky”—nothing in this world is like it.
It’s not that we are mountain biking professionals. In fact, most of us hadn't been in the saddle in years, but the trip looked epic and we needed a challenge. A bunch of guys going out into the desert with nothing to do but lie around in the shade and drink smoothies just doesn’t do it. So we booked our permits, snagged the last set of campsites for the season, and began to train.
Across the country five of us pulled our bikes out of the shed or signed up for a gym membership and felt the oddity of stationary training while the snow piled up outside. Several months later we stood side-by-side at the top of the Schafer Switchbacks, overlooking our first few miles and the thousands of feet we were about to descend when someone muttered (and not for the last time), "We totally underestimated this."
These days I live in a flat place; for the first time in my life there is no obvious mountain range looming over the city, no invasive wildness cutting into the day, peaks swallowing the sun at four o’clock. I am not used to this, and as I searched for the highest spot nearby I found that I'd have to drive 266 miles to poke my head all the way up to two thousand feet (give or take three hundred more that make no great difference). Not the inspiration I was hoping for.
Overcoming challenges is one of the reasons I seek adventure. I don’t know how everyone else does it, but I don’t go out in search of failure. This isn’t to say I only attempt challenges that I know I can beat—only that I don’t put on my climbing shoes when I see a glass building slicked in oil.
This wasn’t always the case. For a while I had given up on many forms of challenges. Out of that place that doesn’t want to be seen as a failure (by anyone, including myself) I stopped saying yes to friends who were going camping or to the beach to play volleyball or even just to hang out. I stayed where I felt comfortable, where I felt safe. I would probably still be there if the girl hadn’t come along and called me the day after we started dating, thrilled to let me know we were going skydiving. I made no mention of my fear of heights… apparently I would rather throw myself out of a plane at 13,000 feet than let this one beat me.
Somewhere along the line I became someone who would say “yes” to climbing mountains again, and I realized that the air up on top tasted better, after climbing its shale beard and mossy nose in the hours before the sun knew what we were doing. It was like breathing for real. So did the air on the sea when I sailed out on my own for the first time, or when I walked out of an interview that ended with a job offer, or when I told her I wanted to keep on adventuring.
Preparation for our Moab trip provided me with something to work towards. Every time the voice whispered, it’s too hard… don’t bother, we knew the trip would not be denied, so we kept on.
As the caffeine addict sighs relief at the first sip of the day, I've discovered that I need to overcome challenges (big or small) on a regular basis so that I might breathe in the air that is sweeter for the victory.
The developers of video games realized this: giving challenges and rewards influence the players' desire to revisit your product time and again. But there is a difference in the “real” world: the stakes are higher, the reward more physical, and the payoff greater.
Care to join me? Here is a little something from the Killing Lions journal.
“Can’t climb a mountain for whatever reason? How about…
A long-distance bicycle trip?
Joining the local climbing gym and overcoming your fear of heights?
Trying the “Couch potato to 5K” running program and finishing with your first 5K?
Sometimes our greatest fears provide the best opportunities for validation. Do you have a fear of speaking? Look for an opportunity to give a talk in front of some friends—even just a few guys you invite over. Or how about education—did you finish high school? If not, go back and get it done. Is there a book you’ve wanted to read but were intimidated by it? Now’s the time to press through, cover to cover.
All of these are about sticking with something to see it through, and you will be amazed at how good you feel for accomplishing that.”
Three days, one crash and a trashed bike, hundreds of energy bars, a sprained knee, nights with billions of stars, early morning muscle pains, thousands of cheers and offers of encouragement, and a hundred miles later… we did it.