Racing The Sun Part III: Choosing Your Sidekick, Pacing Progress, and Reflecting On Your Goals
As darkness crept slowly into the canyon, our hope began to flee. My brother, Jason, and I, had been inching up the desolate Grand View trail in determined silence. The sun was so low that the canyon walls obscured it from our view. Did an hour of daylight remain, or mere minutes?
Between the two of us, only one 12 ounce bottle of water remained. Our family would not be rendezvousing with us until the following afternoon, thus leaving us stranded once we made it to the rim. We recognized the futility of our efforts.
Nonetheless, Jason and I clung to the goal of making it to the canyon’s rim before sunset. Our plan was to catch some tourists and get help. Exhausted, dehydrated, and ill-prepared, our day of fun hiking had turned into a nightmare of desperation.
Have a Sidekick
My mind was working in silent overdrive. The anxiety of racing the sun and the fear of what awaited us at the rim added more weight to my pack. My legs and lungs throbbed from the constant climb, and I struggled to keep calm.
Jason suddenly spoke up. He suggested that we start talking. The silence brought on by our exertion was only making the mental challenge worse. It didn’t matter whether we told stories or rambled incoherently. Any tactic that could take our minds off our situation was a welcomed advantage.
The crazy thing is...it worked. Between laboring breaths, Jason and I reminisced about our family, made fun of our friends, and swapped stories. We talked about his college life, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and the faithful raven that refused to abandon us.
I felt hope returning. This is what we were after, wasn’t it? Stay positive, enjoy the companionship, and appreciate the adventure. As hard as this day had become, I was not alone.
Batman and Robin, Timone and Pumba, and even Rory and Lorelai all had each other. To paraphrase Samwise Gamgee, “sharing the load” with others is a powerful tool in overcoming adversity.
Whatever your goal, find a sidekick. Explain your intentions and expectations for each other before embarking on your quest. Do you want someone to commiserate with you, hold you accountable, or provide positivity? Do you need someone who is a distraction from, or a reminder of your goal?
Finding the right sidekick requires being honest about your own weaknesses. I have had plenty of “workout” partners that ended up enabling my laziness. Instead of being held accountable, I used their own procrastination as an excuse to kick back. If they didn’t feel like exercising, it made me feel better about not going either. Strength in numbers can work both ways.
Think back to your previous attempts at building a habit. What was your downfall? Were you crippled by intimidation, or hamstrung by a lack of energy? Did you lack guidance, or was the sweet siren’s song of the couch just too beckoning? Did your last sidekick encourage you, or enable you? Find the companion who can step in to shield you when you are at your weakest.
Social interaction triggers some pretty powerful reward systems in the human brain. At its base level, having my brother there was a distraction from the situation we got ourselves in. Only 17-years old, I had never pushed my body this hard or faced such an uncertain predicament. Jason’s bright idea to lighten the mood taught me my first adult lesson in positive thinking and embracing the now. Rather than ruminating over our fate in silence, we laughed in the face of fear.
Live to Fight Another Day
Suddenly, I noticed the trail started to look more and more manicured. We must be getting close to the rim! I looked out across the vast chasm and saw a sea of shadow. Still, a flourescent-orange sky hummed above us. We had been hiking for hours, but the end was near.
That’s when things took a turn for the worse. The persistence we gained from social distraction could no longer hold back the wave of exhaustion. Jason collapsed onto a rock, panting uncontrollably and clutching his legs. His quads had begun seizing up from the unrelenting climb and dehydration. His body was failing him.
Between exasperated gasps, I saw hopelessness infiltrate Jason’s eyes. He had resigned himself to the fact that no one would be there at the top of the rim. The chances of being rescued were slim to none, so why push it, now? We might as well rest.
It was my turn to be the sidekick. With the painted sky slowly turning to blackness, I told Jason to get up! We couldn’t give in with the finish line so close. This was our only chance of ending this journey safely.
I pulled Jason to his feet. He leaned heavily on his walking stick and took one step. Then another. Then another! Step by step, we both forced our legs to work by pressing down on them with our hands.
10 steps later, Jason’s legs seized up again and he crashed against the canyon wall. My own chest heaved as I fought a losing battle to catch my breath.
Every cell within us screamed for mercy. Rest! Recover! Give Up! But we couldn’t stop. All our energy and concentration went into the next step. For each instance that our bodies convulsed in alarmed rebellion, our chance of rescue slipped further away.
One of the principles of the Adventure Athlete Training System is to “live to fight another day.” In other words, focus your physical, mental, or spiritual exertion towards consistency over intensity.
For much of my fitness journey, I would fall into the trap of thinking soreness was a sign of success. I would beat my muscles to a pulp on Monday, then be too wrecked to do anything the rest of the week. What originally was a plan to workout 3 times a week often turned into 1 workout a week, plus a week of hobbling around waiting to recover.
I was drawing from an empty tank and pushing way past the threshold for adaptation. No one wants to exercise (or even move) if they are sore. My training, originally intended to make me more capable of adventure, was chaining me to a sedentary existence.
Remember, slow and steady wins the race! You could exhaust your resources by performing 50 chin ups in one day, or you could perform 15 chin ups a day for 5 days. By the end of the week, which route lead to more work? More importantly, which situation lead to less fatigue and soreness?
This simplistic example illustrates how most goals should work within your means, rather than railing against them. Whether your goal is physical or not, find the minimum effective dose and repeat that, consistently. How can you work towards your goal without inducing fatigue, soreness, or burning out? How can your daily efforts energize you and lead to more opportunities, rather than break your body down?
Living to fight another day means balancing atop the razor’s edge of adaptation and exhaustion. If consistent, daily activity is the goal (and it should be), always train with tomorrow in mind. Over-exertion today may hinder you down the road. Instead, pace yourself and work within your physical or motivational means.
Jason and I had no other option than to work within our means. One literal step beyond our capabilities and our legs would stiffen as if electrocuted. We could not afford that kind of delay. With full concentration, we tuned into our bodies. 2 steps, 2 breaths to recover. 3 more steps, 1 long breath. Stride by stride, we teetered between making progress and experiencing bodily mutiny.
We stooped like broken men as we stumbled up the path, watching one foot drag several inches past the other in the near-darkness.
At some point, I turned the corner of a switchback and peered out from the brim of my stupid leather cowboy hat. On a rock outcropping about 15 feet above me, I saw movement.
Not just movement, but the bright blue movement of a University of Florida Windbreaker. That’s odd! My uncle, who accompanied our family on the trip, wore a bright blue UF Windbreaker! The blue figure turned from the last grasps of sunlight upon the desert and disappeared behind a rock.
Believing it was a mirage, I called out. I can still hear the dry raspiness of my voice as I tried to get this apparition’s attention. As if being conjured from thin air, my uncle curiously popped back into view. His face lit up in surprise.
“Well, hey guys! What are you doing here? We were just about to leave!”
What are we doing here? What was HE doing here?! Jason and I looked at each other in true disbelief.
As we wrestled ourselves over the lip of the rim, Jason and I were greeted by our entire family. After dropping us off only 5 hours before, they had decided the Grand View trail head would be a perfect spot to watch the Arizona sunset. Of all the events Jason and I expected to occur once we reached the top, our family actually being there was not one of them.
Had we rested even 30 seconds longer, our family would have been gone. Had we made any wrong decision or lingered for any reason, we would have been stranded at the rim. Our family were the only people there to watch the sunset, but it was exactly who we needed to be there.
Reflect, and Be Thankful
In a daze of miraculous bewilderment, Jason and I unslung our packs and watched the last remnants of sunset fade into the blackness. In 5 hours, we had unexpectedly hiked 5,000 feet of desert elevation, carrying full packs and only 36 ounces of water. What was originally intended to be a leisurely camping trip ended up being my first true adventure, and an event that continues to teach me to this very day.
No matter how small your daily success, take the time to reflect on your accomplishment. All too often, we hurry through the day-to-day and worry about everything else we have going on. In doing so, we are forgetting our most powerful ally in forming lasting habits: positive appreciation.
Every dream you have is a chance to change your life and fulfill your potential. Any change will bring with it lasting lessons that far surpass the goal itself. From the first step to the last, you are making a conscious sacrifice to better yourself and unite your mind, body, and spirit.
The next time you muster up the courage to hurry through that exercise you didn’t feel like doing, or turn away from that tantalizing sweet treat, stop and take a second to realize that you are forging a new reality. In this reality, you are the hero. You possess the willpower to step outside your comfort zone, the discipline to pursue your dreams, and the patience to appreciate every step towards your destiny.
Now, go find your own canyon to climb!
…At 16 minutes, I am struggling to call this a “summary.” However, watch below for a review of the 8 steps for achieving your goals.