Dear Family & Friends,
The definition of humbled: “1. marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful.” “2. Showing deferential or submissive respect.”
Two years ago, I trekked Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps of Western Europe (4810m). Mont Blanc was the first most challenging experience I’ve ever endured. Firstly, due to the unreliable ranges in terrain: from rocks and boulders to rivers and streams to mud hills to snow peaks. Secondly, due to my inexperienced packing skills, I generously carried 35lbs of weight on my back, through, thirdly, schizophrenic climate: rain, snow, sleet, heat, blizzard, and humidity. And lastly, the lung wheezing, leg burning elevations, making the CN Tower stair climb, combined with any number of squats and lunges seem like a minimal sweat inducing warm up.
I was humbled then.
I am humbled now.
I am writing to you now because I have lived to tell the tale of my trekking adventure up and around the overwhelming Ausangate Mountain in the Andes of Peru (6384m). On a straight numbers game comparison, Ausangate is not nearly as physically challenging as my Mont Blanc experience in terms of terrain, pack-carrying weight, climate, temperature and elevation, but there is one element that trumps them all: ALTITUDE. Any factor of difficulty falls deeply into the shadows of altitude during a trek. Rocks feel like boulders, snow feels like ice, warm feels like cold, cold feels like freezing, small day packs feel like luggage suitcases, hills are never-ending, night is never bearable, even for a Canadian, with two sleeping bags. Running is impossible, even for a marathoner. Walking is a struggle, breathing is a struggle, everything is a struggle. I sound dramatic and over-exaggerating, but the sickness that altitude brings speaks for itself. Constant fatigue, unexpected nausea, consistent weakness, throbbing headaches, projectile vomiting, and you don’t want to know #2’s. For someone who is used to conquering; not just completing, racing; not just running; going above and beyond; not just making the cut, my ego is a bit bruised, spirit bent slightly out of shape, but all in the good fortune of wisdom gaining.
How did I persevere? What did I do to survive? Why I continued on?
Attitude and Approach: after my bout with food poisoning and massive altitude sickness the first 3 days, I realized a Type A personality (someone who stops at nothing to get what they want when they want) could not survive. “Consistently Conservative” is the term I use to describe the Type B personality that would succeed any altitude challenge. Immediately, the Tortoise and the Hare story came to mind, I kept on reminding myself, “slow and steady wins the race”, and then naturally changed it to, “slow and steady wins”. The approach to the trek required patience and precise pacing. No race was to be won, there was no such thing as “conquering”, only the most satisfying feeling of completing.
Vulnerability: people have many sides to their personalities of which they choose to show to different people for different reasons. We put on different hats for different roles we play in life: boss, subordinate, leader, follower, parent, child, sibling, friend, and foe. As a coach, trainer, instructor, I wear my boss-man, terminator, leader, tough guy, superman hat almost everywhere I go. That hat is a permanent part of my role, it defines who I am and what I do, it is proudly worn as a badge of honor. But there are times when this hat need not be worn. After my first troublesome three days, I knew this hat would serve me no good; I saved myself by taking it off. The ability to let one’s guard down and uphold no ego is ironically something to be proud of, something to share, seek, and not hide. I let myself go, I indulged in helplessness, I became a follower and a listener. I reversed roles with my girlfriend savior, and sought her for leadership, strength, and nurture. One part of me thinks that I succumbed to defeat, another part of me, thinks that I opened myself to vulnerability. Ultimately, if I had not chosen to change my ways, I do not think I would be home as the person I am today, standing in shoes of which I can still be proud.
The Power of Sharing: we are social beings who enjoy sharing. Sharing stories, experiences, information, songs, photographs, whatever it may be, there is a cause and effect chemical reaction that takes place between the sharing people. One person gives and the other person(s) receive. The receiver receives the giver’s information and stores it as memory. However powerful this memory dictates the length in which it stays memorized. An epic, life-changing trek like Ausangate and Machu Picchu is a strong example of an experience that sticks in the receiver’s memory, enough to last the whole duration of the giver’s trip. This cause and effect reaction creates a bond. The giver has shared a part of their life that holds such high significance that a permanent memory bridge has been formed, hopefully encouraging further experience sharing in the future. This hope is what gave me reason for taking photographs, buying souvenirs, continuing up and over mountain passes, and enjoying my experience to the utmost.
The Power of Responsibility and Accountability: a wise man once told me the difference between being responsible for a task and being accountable for a task. When you are responsible for the completion of a task, your sole purpose is to complete the task in its entirety. When you are accountable for a task, you have made someone else responsible, and it is up to you to be responsible for that person who completes the task, not for completing the task yourself. A deep trust is involved and a skillful hands on/off approach is required. My role as a coach, trainer, instructor, is to be held accountable for my client’s fitness and health. My role was reversed the moment I decided to share my trekking trip with others. I was immediately accountable to others and responsible for completing the trek. This role reversal acted as my fuel, my motivation, my inspiration, and my duty. The obligation to “not let someone down” is as powerful, if not more than not letting yourself down. “The strength of a man isn’t in the words he speaks. It’s in how he keeps his word.” Amidst the entire struggle, in my head I could not let anyone down. I kept my word.
Albums that I listened to during my trek:
Sigur Ros – Valtari – http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/valtari/videos/varud-inga/
Tiesto – Club Life Miami
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
Mumford and Sons – Sign No More
Keane – Strangeland
Drake – Take Care / Thank Me Later