They hooked me with the line: What if Mt. Everest came to you? It’s called 29029 Everesting.
They rent a ski slope in the offseason. They’ve calculated how many trips up that slope are necessary to reach 29,029 feet of vertical. 29,029 because that’s how far above sea level Mt. Everest is. They put up tents at the base. They provide food, snacks and swag (really great swag).
You climb up and ride the gondola down. You have 36 hours to get as many trips up as possible. From 6AM Friday to 6PM Saturday. 17 trips up is the goal. Each trip is about 1,750 feet of vertical gain and 1.3 miles of distance traveled. Turns out it feels like a couple of days climbing a ladder while running a marathon.
To prepare I ran. On weekends, I hiked up and down Mt. Walker.
I calculated. 17 trips in 36 hours. How fast can I do that?
I spent 4 months getting ready. All the while knowing that I didn’t know if I was ready. I mean, how can you know?
And then I found myself in Vermont in October. In blowing rain and snow looking up the mountain wondering exactly what I’d gotten myself into.
At 7AM we started climbing. My plan was to complete 11 trips up before I slept. That would give me a manageable 6 trips to do on the second day. I remember the dawning realization that I had no idea how long this is going to take.
The first trip up wasn’t bad. I had to strip off a layer because I was warming up fast but I was on track. I can do it.
4 trips in and it was already after noon. Can I really do 11 trips today? Had that been an unrealistic goal?
8 trips in and it was nearly 6PM and already dark. Plus I hadn’t eaten dinner yet.
Trip 9 after dinner was slow. And cold. And dark. It was beginning to snow again. Between my breath and the snow, my headlamp wasn’t giving me much visibility. I was climbing in a tunnel of darkness.
I finished trip 11 around 1 in the morning and tried to get some sleep. Only 6 more trips to go. I have all day. Piece of cake.
I couldn’t sleep. I dozed for maybe 3 hours. And then stumbled to breakfast to fuel up. Unfortunately, my stomach had other things on its mind. Breakfast was a non-starter for my belly. No breakfast is a terrible plan. This climbing in the cold burns huge amounts of calories. But eating wasn’t working.
OK, no breakfast.
That’s OK, I can tough it out.
The sun came out. Trips 11 and 12 weren’t wonderful but I was beginning to feel better. I snacked on the rides down. The day was gorgeous. Vermont was lovely from the top.
On trip 13 things took a turn I didn’t see coming. My feet felt heavy. My head was fuzzy. I knew it was because I didn’t have enough food to do this stupid climb. I felt like I had cinder blocks strapped to my boots. I was stumbling. I still didn’t feel like eating.
Riding down the gondola after trip 13, I began to wonder if I was gonna be able to complete this stupid thing. I really wanted a nap. And a hot tub. And a massage would be nice.
I took a break after 13. Got some coffee. Choked down some food. I gave the food some time to settle a bit and tried not to worry about the remaining time. I was way behind my plan and the day was evaporating on me.
Trip 14 got ugly. About a third of the way up the mountain where the incline began to get steep, I couldn’t keep going. I was dizzy and nauseous. I had the stark realization that I didn’t even have the energy to throw up. So I pulled my hood lower on my face and settled for a little quiet crying.
That was a new low point for me. I’ve had moments in Spartan races where I was cold and exhausted…but I never really seriously considered quitting. I remember looking over my shoulder, down the slope and calculating how easy it would be to just walk down and quit. Down’s so much easier.
I negotiated with myself. I’d take 10 steps and then reconsider quitting. But no quitting without 10 more steps. If I couldn’t take 10 more steps I’d quit. 10 steps. 10 ugly, wobbly, nauseous steps. OK. Quit now? Hmmm.. not yet. 10 more. I climbed the rest of trip 14 in 10 step increments with renegotiations with myself every 10 steps. It was pathetic.
At some point near the top of the mountain my head cleared and I began to feel better. By the time I was at the top I was believing I could do the last 3 trips. Which I did. Which felt amazing.
Yet, Trip 14 is what I’m remembering.
I’m no quitter. But in Trip 14, I was done. Throw in the towel. Get me out of here. Empty. Broken down.
I got through it in 10-step increments.
This isn’t strictly about the challenge, it’s about wise living. In this life there are moments (sometimes it seems like many moments) when you’re sure you can’t go on. When it’s too tough. Or too confusing. Or impossible. Or never ending.
That’s why I do crazy things like 29029 that push me to the brink. I find I have more strength and grit than I realized for my daily life. And I can continue.
I remember Trip 14. 10 steps at a time.
Find your brink and find your way through. Do that so you can continue in the difficult times.
What do you think? Here’s how that works: just email me at sthomas AT wizardofads DOT com. That’ll reach me.
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