What I Learned In The Alps
September 18, 2017
Every once in a while, Walt gets it in his head that we need to climb another mountain. So, last week, that’s exactly what we did. Off to the Alps we went to climb Mount Blanc.
Now I’ve mentioned before that I have mixed feelings when it comes to mountain climbing. Yes, I appreciate the confidence it buys me. (You accomplish that kind of task, and you get to walk the planet like you’ve got it going on.) But I also resent the fact that it’s a LOT of hard work, fraught with scary moments when I’m convinced I’m going to plummet to my death. On top of that, I always end up trashing my poor, delicate feet. As a female, I would like for once to have toenails, black or otherwise.
And yet, each time I go to the mountains, I discover something more about myself. I’m reminded of lessons I tend to forget.
I thought I might list them here.
- I have this very bad habit of blindly following other people’s instructions, particularly if they’re male and in a position of authority. I assume that they know better than I.
Seeing as we’ve never been to the Alps, we hired a lovely Italian mountain guide named Bepe. In the parking lot, Bepe wanted to see what we had in our packs, what we were insisting on dragging up the mountain. (As if I’d squirreled away a canned ham.) Yes, we could leave some items at the Refugio some three hours up the hill, but why bring the unnecessary in the first place? I showed Bepe my approach shoes—a lovely pair of Sportivas that a mountain goat would covet for their comfort—and my 8000-meter boots—a full on assault boot designed for sub-arctic climates, which was why I bought them in the first place, that, after a number of hours, feel about as cozy as a block of cement studded with broken glass.
We were going to have to eventually strap on crampons the next day when we reached the glacier at 12,000 feet, so Bepe nixed the Sportivas. Sure, they’d be great those first few hours up the switchbacks, but then they’d be added weight in the pack. I knew this was a mistake, but I followed his directions anyway. Bad, bad idea. OMG, bad idea.
- Sometimes it’s about having the right equipment, the right tools, and not about getting better at sucking it up. (See lesson 1.)
Look, we all need to develop grit and the ability to make peace with discomfort. My addiction to comfort has created many a problem, particularly when I was younger, so I know of which I speak. But. Sometimes you make it so goddamned hard on yourself when it’s simply not necessary. God grant me the wisdom to know which discomfort I can minimize and control, and which is just part of the game. (I think they should add that to The Serenity Prayer.)
- I’m completely delusional. I think that, because I’ve climbed really high mountains before, I’ve got it in the bag.
You’d be amazed how quickly you can lose that level of fitness when you’ve spent the last three years wedged behind a desk. Sure, I run a few miles every day, but don’t let that kid you, too. I think it’s appropriate that Navy SEALS are made to roll around in the wet sand so they end up spending the day in discomfort, particularly when they’ve followed every single rule, every order. As a way of learning, really internalizing, that life isn’t fair. Because it’s not fair that you go to all that trouble to get in shape, only to lose it the very nanosecond you relax your efforts. It’s just not fair. But, like gravity, it’s a fact of life.
- It’s amazing what the human body is capable of, what you can do when you train for the impossible.
Look, I felt pretty sorry for myself when I got off the mountain. I’d had a twelve-hour day in nightmarish boots; developed enough blisters to warrant a skin graft; dealt with 14,000 feet of elevation, which always makes me cry like a baby because it breeches my defenses; and I torqued the shit out of my glute. You know, whah, whah, whah. Then I came into town and tripped over the finish line for The Tour of Giants, a 330-km foot race through the heart of the Italian Alps. Up one mountain, down the next, up another mountain…for 120 fucking hours. In the evening, just after dinner, we heard one of the participants come into town, the crowd cheering him on. We rushed out to see him cross the finish line, and I swear to God I wept like I’ve never wept before. I wanted to fall to my knees and prostrate myself. Can you EVEN?
- Sometimes you fail to notice that you’re no longer struggling.
The hill is behind you, the scary cliff too. But you’re still in full freak out mode, long after necessary. Sometimes you have to take a look around and remind yourself that you’re in a good spot; that it’s time to calm the hell down. That you’re actually going to be all right. That the hard part is behind you.
I can think of a number of ways one could apply these lessons to not only life, but to growing a business, and writing books. Can’t you?
One last whiny thing.
My poor feet.