Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hooked

Do you ever wonder how seemingly normal, otherwise-well-rounded people find their way into endurance sports? Of course there will always be genetic anomalies out there who can burn endless miles without even trying. But where does the rest of the field come from? How does a person look at something like a 24-hour bicycle race - the stomach-turning loops, the joint-throttling repetition, the creeping night fatigue and the 20-hours-per-week training it takes to get there - how do they look at something like that and say, “hey, that might be something I’d be good at”? Or even scarier - “hey, that might be fun.”

I’ve ask myself this question before. I feel like I can trace it all back to a single moonlit morning, when my friends Monika, Curt and I decided we wanted to see what the top of Mount Timpanogos looked like at sunrise.

The Timpanogos trail is in itself a fairly mellow hike. At 18 miles, it’s long but mellow. Of course there’s a fair amount of elevation gain, but since Boy Scouts and BYU students make up the bulk the trail’s regulars, it can’t exactly be listed under Xtreme. But throw in three recent college grads, a long night of partying, a sleepless 2 a.m. launch time, two frozen water bottles, six Jolly Ranchers and a single can of Red Bull, and you suddenly have something that skirts the gaping chasm of “Epic.”

I remember struggling up the ridge line at mile 7, about 5 a.m., when our silent suffering started to slip into audible abuse. After several long minutes of groans and grumbles and my comments about the brilliance of freezing water for a hike in the 35-degree chill of a September morning at 10,000 feet, we all just stopped. Cut to silence. And looked at each other. I could see in my friends’ eyes the dead-end fatigue I felt in myself. It was suggested that we turn around. I glanced up trail. The ridge was no more than a half mile away - and beyond that I imagined the wind-blasted ridge line, the strenuous scramble to the peak, and the inevitable sunrise over the Heber Valley.

And so I said, "Well, the hard part's over now. It's all mental from here." Somehow, I talked myself into believing that. And Monika and Curt, as though too tired to argue, nodded. So we marched.

At the peak, Monika - the only one smart enough to bring any sort of breakfast - shared her strange little soft cheese wedges with us before she and Curt passed out on their own respective rock ledges. I sat beside a weather tower and watched wisps of pink clouds burn away as the Wasatch Range stretched deeper into the morning. In the new clarity of daylight, I had a bewildering view of what seemed to be thousands of peaks. I wanted to climb them all. And even stranger, I thought as desperately lapped at wet ice through the narrow neck of my water bottle, is that I wanted to start that second, from that peak. I wanted to walk to the next peak, and then the next. As exhausted as I knew I was, I craved some sort of journey into the eternity I could suddenly see.

I think that's when I knew.

What's your story?