My mom just got back from mountain biking in Moab. My dad is about to embark on a 6 week road trip to Alaska. One of my best friends is three days into his quest to hike 75 mountains in 75 days (14ersproject.org) Another best friend has lost a bunch of weight being consistent and persistent in his running and diet. I have a cousin who is 2 months away from a multi day stage race in Iceland (runiceland.org) My wife is finishing her 3 year medical residency (really an 11 year grind). And there’s probably hundreds of other people in my life doing amazing things!
Last summer I turned to the Iron Cowboy for my daily inspiration as he completed 50 ironmans in 50 states in 50 days. To find this year’s motivation I have to look no further than the people closest to me. That’s quite incredible. I don’t think everyone is able to say that.
So today I want to express gratitude for everyone in my life who is out there accomplishing their dreams, striving to make themselves better, and exploring this beautiful world.
I’m a lucky man to have these adventurers in my life. I’ve been raised to love the outdoors, to seek exploration, and to realize the importance of seeking life journeys. I am surrounded by people whom I care about who share the same ideals. You guys all inspire me to be a better person and to reach higher than I thought possible.
Trail running in the Linville Gorge (about an hour east of Asheville) has been a goal of mine ever since we moved out east. Like a Game of Thrones character this area goes by many different nicknames: the most rugged wilderness on the east coast, the Grand Canyon of the East, or simply the gem of North Carolina. It is only one of two gorge’s east of the Mississippi and is one of the only hikes around here where you find complete isolation (similar to a hike into the Rocky Mountains). In otherwords, the Linville Gorge is unlike anything else in the Southeast.
Two years ago I ran my second 50k up some dirt roads on the east side of the Gorge. It was in a miserably cold rain storm in the middle of December. A 33 degree downpour where I was lucky to even move my fingers enough to put my gloves on (on the plus side the thought of “getting the hell out of the cold” made me run pretty fast). As I was running through the fog, I could only see a few feet in front of my face . I kept thinking to myself “you know, I bet this area is unbelievably gorgeous in nice weather.” I’ve been meaning to come back ever since. Sunday night I got the view that was taken from me that day.
Yeah….the Gorge is beautiful. I was nearly overcome to the point of tears at what I was seeing.
The next day I met a friend visiting from Iowa and we spent the morning hiking around the Blue Ridge Parkway (Black Balsam Knob, Sam’s Knob, Skinny Dip Falls….all very suggestive names). That afternoon we met his family and fueled up on breweries and delicious food before I headed back to my campsite at Lake James.
Tuesday morning was my big adventure of the trip. The plan was to trail run out and back from Shortoff Mountain to Table Rock; approximately 12 miles or, as it will be known from here on out, “the most brutal half marathon I’ve ever ran”.
At 7:25a.m., consisting solely on the previous day’s diet of beer and perogies, I began the run.
The ascent of Shortoff Mountain is probably runnable but, in order to conserve energy, I chose to hike it. 25 minutes later I was at the top where I was greeted by a fantastic view of Lake James.
At this point it was already getting HOT…extremely hot. And, in classic east coast fashion, super freaking humid.
The next two miles were pretty flat as I traversed the eastern ridge of the gorge on the Mountains to Sea trail. At times I weaved into the woods where tree branches, thorn bushes, and high grass covered the rocky and rooty path. (NOTE: all measurements are estimated as I’m too lazy to look up actual distances…your welcome)
The sun was pounding down and dehydration was fast catching up to me. I had three full bottles; two in the front of my Ultimate Direction pack and one stashed in the back and I was determined to be very conservative on the first half of the run.
Eventually I descended to Chimney Gap and began the climb to the chimneys. This was the climb that almost broke me. No tree cover meant that the steep trail was SCORCHING HOT. Instantly I was soaking wet….my clothes felt like I had just stepped out of a pool. All this sweat means I’m losing A LOT of electrolytes and tons of water…I need to rehydrate soon. I chugged a half bottle of water and fought off the voice telling me to turn around. This mountain will not beat me today became my mantra as I huffed and puffed up the hill.
I love these moments. When you have to conquer that inner monologue. Your brain stuck in that negative loop as “doom watch 2016” has taken over and you are stepping into battle with that part of your brain.
I haven’t always been good at battling my own negativity. Doom and gloom mode has emerged victorious many times before. “Pre-adventure seeking Chris” would have turned around, whereas over the last few years I have discovered that my body is can push past obstacles that my mind deems too difficult.
This is why everyone NEEDS to create these mini-adventures- self understanding.
You will improve by leaps and bounds once you challenge yourself into tough, grinding, brutal situations. Step outside your daily routine and find these challenges. They will be uncomfortable…even miserable at times, but seeking that is a GOOD THING. These situations will help you discover what you are capable of! And at the end of the day you will look back with a smile thinking “I can’t believe I almost gave in…what was I thinking??”
At the Chimneys I ran into an Outward Bound rock climbing group who informed me that “no there is no running water at the Table Rock Picnic Area.” Good thing I was being conservative. Once I got to my turn-around at Table Rock I chugged a half bottle of water and began to retrace my steps.
It was a tough two hours (and only 6 miles) to the halfway point so I took a few minutes to rest and appreciate the view (and chow down some Honey Stinger Gummies).
The way back was beyond challenging but pretty uneventful consisting mostly of me bargaining with myself…”Okay if you run for the next 20 minutes than you can drink a half bottle of water.” This helped fight off the dizziness of dehydration as I dragged my scratched up smelly body through the mountains.
I made it back to Shortoff and finished my water. The last mile was a downhill quad burner that seemed to go on forever. Two things kept me going: the dream of sandals and of pouring a bunch of cold water all over my body.
10 minutes later I got both of those things.
I was a happy boy.
Throughout the 4 hours (my slowest half marathon!) I faced self-doubt, dehydration (my pee was almost brown by the end), and the fear of isolation in the wilderness. Make no mistake about it this was mental toughness training as much as it was physical body training. Overcoming those challenges made me BETTER. I drove away from the Gorge BETTER than I was 4 hours before.
If you are like me and in the weird zone between accomplishing a goal and declaring a new one, then you probably look online for inspiration.
While spinning my wheels I usually look to youtube for awesome content to get me inspired.
Here are three youtube videos to quench your thirst for badass endurance sports.
WESTERN TIME- By Bill Yang who has some of the best ultrarunner short films online. This is about Sally McCrae’s attempt at Western States two years ago. Western States is known as “the Super Bowl of Ultras” and film is a great representation of the event.
FAST FORWARD- Lael Wilcox’s attempt on setting the female record mountain biking the Arizona Trail. A self-supported bike ride which takes days to traverse through the state.
BLIND SOCCER IN COLOBMIA- This is actually part of a film series called American Futbol produced by a close friend of mine Petar Madjarac. So far this is my favorite episode. It explores the love of soccer through blind soccer players in Colombia. Very inspirational!
The Colorado 14ers (actually, all mountains) have special meaning to me. Mountains can represent challenges, solitude, community. They have acted as a tool to help me build lasting friendships, push my personal comfort zone, realize my potential, fill my never-ending hunger for adventure, and even heal me during the toughest time in my life. Whenever I have found my wheels spinning, a trip to the mountains has kicked me back into gear. Mountains are whatever I need them to be- a therapist, a test of will, a life-changer, or simply a good time with friends. They give me a chance to reconnect with nature and create lasting memories with my best friends. Hiking mountains have even allowed me to feel close to loved ones I have lost. I need mountains to fulfill my own happiness.
In 2008, my friends and I road tripped overnight from Iowa City to the trailhead of Longs Peak. Sleep-deprived and suffering from altitude sickness, the mountain nearly destroyed me. Although I failed to summit, my eyes were opened to a whole new realm of adventure opportunities. Until that road trip, I had always considered myself to be “the world’s most average man”. When I returned to the car, I decided to throw the idea of being average away and chase my full potential. Now I can say that I’ve summited multiple peaks, spent hours upon hours in the woods, become a mountain ultrarunner and adventure racer, raised a daughter to love “daddy daughter trips” (what she calls hiking), and even ate the top of my wedding cake on top of Mt. Democrat on our first anniversary. Most importantly, I’ve spread my love of mountains and wilderness to friends and family.
“Don’t raise your hand or the teacher might call on you. If the teacher calls on you, you might be wrong. If you are wrong your classmates might laugh at you. If they laugh at you, you might never make friends again.”
At times this is how I felt growing up.
Don’t stick out. Don’t have the opportunity to fail. Try not to be noticed.
I’m dropping this. I don’t know how this was uploaded into my consciousness, but I can’t have it in there anymore.
To be successful I need to operate on a new paradigm.
Stand out. Fail often and learn from the failures. Get noticed so that you can affect more people.
It’s going to be uncomfortable (there’s that word again!) because its going against my programming. Luckily working through discomfort is a skill I’ve been building!
I just wrote a long post about consistency and my failure at writing a blog every day. Then I tried to post it and it was deleted. Desperately I scrambled to look if wordpress saved it only to find that, of course, it did not.
(EXPLETIVE) (EXPLETIVE) (EXPLETIVE) was my first thought.
This has happened before. In fact it was one of the excuses I used in not writing for a whole freakin year!
I’ve learned a lot since then so I will not use one tiny obstacle as an excuse. So I’m writing this immediately after the last one was deleted (and saving it this time….fool me once…)
They pop up all the time. Mostly when we least expect them. In fact, unexpected obstacles are the worst type. They can be damaging. They have the potential to send us spiraling out of control. Our routines might totally be thrown off or our goals might be put on the backburner.
Obstacles are bad.
….If you perceive them that way.
You can also look at obstacles as stepping stones or THE WAY. This perspective has come to term with the fact that obstacles WILL HAPPEN and do in fact happen all the time. Obstacles are EXPECTED AND EMBRACED. They can be viewed as a good thing. Maybe they cause you to find a more creative solution to a problem or make you more conscious in your preparations.
It’s all about perspective.
So today I’m looking at retyping this blog as a good thing. In fact, the ideas flowed a heck of a lot easier the second time. I’m going to embrace the small inconvenience and use it to make me better!
…and this time I’m going to save it before I post!
(Read The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday for an entire book about this idea)