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Committing to Something Scary

Posted on:April 30, 2022 at 02:30 PM

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One of the lessons that I have taken from playing video games my whole life is that to progress, generally, you must move toward challenge. If you clear an area, for example, you’ll accomplish nothing further if you simply to hang out in that area. Sure, you could pick up some extra resources, maybe find a secret area to earn an achievement, but you’ll never make real progress until you push forward and move toward the hard part.

With that in mind I have been progressing on a variety of challenges in my life. Most of the current goals and targets I’m pursuing now are health and wellness related. My physical and mental well-being are currently tied in a very real way to my current fixation on hiking as both the best way for me to attain physical fitness but also the only (other) way to keep me level up in my crazy head.

Some Additional Context

I have come to recognize that hiking and backpacking are my best option for full body workouts when I incorporate trekking poles. I can say with certainty that the results speak for themselves: I have lost more than 60 lbs in the last year and seen a drastic improvements in my mobility, flexibility, and strength. I’m also seeing steady gains in my cardiovascular health as well. All of this is due of my routine of consistent stretching, light weight training, mostly-daily walks, and hiking / backpacking (~21-25 lbs on my back) with consistent increases in both elevation gain and mileage, which I’m now doing at least twice a week.

This work has been great for my body, and coupled with my mostly-vegetarian-almost-vegan (but really it’s pescatarian) diet, I am down to a much healthier weight I haven’t seen since I was in high school. I’m under 229 lbs. That’s a delta of around 160 lbs down from my high weight near 400 lbs back in 2015. The journeys to, and from, my incredible maximum weight are worthy of additional posts some other time.

On the other side of physical improvements to my health is the incredible value that hiking has on my mental health. Being out on the trails gives me the opportunity to practice walking meditation and mindfulness. I never feel bad on the trails, I may have to process something difficult, work through unpleasant emotions, but ultimately I feel good when I’m on the trails, every time.

I’ve known about the various benefits I get from hiking for a long time. My love for hiking began at a very young age. I have fond memories of taking a trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with my father when I was young. He gave me my first pocket knife and we sat and whittled sticks near a lake. I don’t have very many fond memories of my father, but the few I have I cherish. In the decades since that time, following along with my dad (and his brother, who I know came with us but for some reason does not actually exist as more than a shadow in my memories) while portage through the BWCA, I have put in a lot of hours on hiking trails and long ago realized how good it was for me mentally to be on the trails in nature.

More access to trails year round is one of the reasons that I moved to the PNW, having known how valuable trails were to me, specifically, made it a high priority that I get out on the trails. The great Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the value of walking meditation in No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, a book I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone. I think it’s second only to You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment - both books are deeply important to me.

What’s The Scary Thing?

But hiking alone isn’t my destination. I didn’t just move to the PNW to be able to hike in the Winter. I moved here to enjoy the Olympics and the Cascades. There are many beautiful sights that I wish to behold before I’ve shed this mortal coil. The regular hikes I take today are around 5-10 miles, but ultimately I want more. I’m wanting to take multi-day backpacking trips into the PNW backcountry, and to do that I need to step up a bit.

That’s why, a few weeks ago, I signed up for a moderately difficult guided fundamentals trip on Andrew Skurka’s website. It was absolutely thrilling to fill out the Google Form for the trip, though I became more and more nervous that I might be in over my head as I continued.

That nervousness was confirmed when I was contacted by a project manager and asked about my level of fitness.

It turns out that the trip I selected, which I chose because of its proximity to me here in the Olympics, will be more intense than a typical fundamentals trip. They have routes drawn up with over 3,000 ft of gain in around 5 miles. I was asked nicely to put up a proving hike of 5-10 miles with more than 2,500 ft. of elevation gain and 20+ lbs on my back.

That’s definitely a lot.

It makes sense to be asked to prove myself, however. The concern is that if I can’t actually handle the trip it would be a significant impact on both myself and the rest of the folks in my group. It could even become a danger.

I understand.

But I can do it.

I will do it!

To that end I have already begun working toward my proving trip.

As I mentioned, I have begun a new routine of at least 2 hikes per week of 5+ miles and at least 500 ft of elevation gain.

Last Saturday I took a big hike up Wildcat Trail on Green Mountain for about 10 miles and over 2000 ft. of elevation gain.

It was hard work, and a somewhat humbling, but I felt like I could have put in a few more miles and while I was glad I didn’t have to hike on Sunday, I felt confident that I’d have been able to do so if necessary.

I’m still scared.

I think that’s as it should be, because it indicated I’m doing something outside of my comfort zone, but I think means I’m moving in the right direction for progress!