As we leave the chapter on persistence, I’m reminded of a time when I was back packing and lived a day of persistence! I had done many hundreds of miles of multi-day hiking. In 1980 2 friends and I hiked 1600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. At no time during that hike did I encounter a day of hiking as arduous as this one day. This particular day defined persistence to the extreme.
7:00 am came quickly. I awoke filled with the same gnawing feeling of anticipation and anxiety that I always had just before a significant physical challenge. after a quick breakfast of coffee, bagels and peanut butter, we broke camp at 8:00 am. We began immediately to climb up granite slabs interspersed with grassy areas that lined the creek we were beside. Within 10 minutes I was in full sweat mode. With every step up, the air grew thinner, the full packs got heavier. By 9:00 am, we had only traveled about a mile. Our reward for reaching a plateau of 11,000 foot level, was the stark view of the next half mile of 2 story, house sized granite blocks that looked as if God had been throwing dice and these monstrous size boulders landed where they were tossed. Beyond them, was the cirque of University Pass and the Sierra Crest towering 1500′ above. At the site before us, my brother, Shane uttered, “You do this every year for fun??? What’s wrong with finding a tropical beach with some cold beer for vacation????” At that moment I couldn’t argue. Just standing without moving, we were panting. We took off the packs to rest and refuel with trail mix and gatorade. I knew it wouldn’t matter what, or how much we ate, it wouldn’t be nearly enough. The sight of what we had to negotiate was supremely intimidating. I could see that the next half mile would be an ordeal of trying to balance on uneven rock slabs, some covered with snow and somehow avoiding falling and breaking a leg, an arm or worse. If we made it to the other side of the field, our reward was a 1500′ climb up loose scree at a 45 degree slope to the top of the pass. The upside at least, was that I knew Where we were. The day before the soaring granite columns and cliffs seemed like a cathedral of hallowed ground, now today the scene before us seemed like the devil’s living room. We put our packs on and instead of turning back, for some reason, we decided to move forward toward our goal, University Pass. The talus field of a half mile took 2 hours for us to negotiate. Between carrying a 60 lb. pack, walking on uneven and sometimes moving surfaces, gusty winds threatening to topple us and the altitude, we were gasping with every step.( It must be said that both of us were in great shape. I had been running all spring and summer to prepare for this event.)
When we finally approached the final ascent and looked up at the 1500′ of scree, I wondered aloud. Should we go on. I was running on way past empty. I was beat… whipped… done….way done… and so was my brother Shane. We took off the packs again and laid back against them. I said,” Bro, I’m sorry for doing this to you, if you want to quit and go back, I totally understand.” “Shit,” he said, and kept panting. I spoke again, “we have a choice, get up this friggen slope or redo the friggen rock pile again. If we do, we’ll lose 2 days, or just quit the whole damn thing and go drink beer down on the river for the next week.” He looked at me and breathed out, “You’re a freaking sadist, let’s go uphill, I don’t want any part of that freaking rock pile ever again!
With that, we wearily stood up, and put on our packs and set out one unbalanced foot after the other. Our steps were 2 and 3 inches apart with 20 and 30 seconds between each. As I would plant one foot into the scree, it would slide backwards. Because of that and the degree of the slope, we were forced to bend at the waist and half crawl up with our hands as well. Every 3 or 4 steps would be cause for a rest of 3 or 4 minutes. I refused to look up and have the enormity of the climb, sap any remaining will that I had left. In fact, I didn’t know what I had. I was numb. The physical effort required, kept us from having any kind of thought that we’d make it. Every step was a decision to do or not. At any moment our wills could have come unraveled and we’d succumb to defeat. I sent my mind into a non–thinking place out of pure survival. Slowly, slowly…one inch, two inches…a foot we kept moving imperceptibly. At one point we were about 500′ up the slope and a gust of wind caught my brother’s baseball cap he was wearing and blew it down below him 50′. We both looked down. “I’m…not….going….to….get…it…” We both turned back around and continued. Time had warped and I had no sense of how long we’d been on the slope, so I looked at my watch. It was now 2:00 pm. I hadn’t dared to look up in over an hour, but I couldn’t help it at this point, I had to know how much climb was left. For the first time all day, I had the imperceptible inkling we just might make it. The slope began to ease in its angle. Steps got easier. I could hear the wind blowing on the crest. We had 100′ left and I knew we’d make it. 30 minutes later we stood on top of University Pass some 12,500+ feet. We’d been walking since 7 am and it was now 2:30. In 7 and half hours we’d walked 2 miles of the toughest terrain one could imagine. The feeling at the top was one of immense relief, and gratitude. We took off the packs and enjoyed the tremendous vista of the High Sierra stretched out 60 mile to the south.We high fived each other. Shane shouted, “I don’t EVER want to do anything like that again!!” Pride would set in later. Right now ahead of us, was a mile down hill of ankle deep scree. It would be our reward for all the uphill. We would make it to the bottom in 30 minutes. On the way down I spotted a meadow with a winding creek and a wonderful flat camp site. We made it down, set up camp and enjoyed the immense satisfaction that we didn’t have to move much for the rest of the day. We sat and looked back up the incredible slope we’d just come down. Shane uttered several times, “I can’t believe we just did that!”
We didn’t know it, but we’d just accomplished the 4 steps to success, Thought, burning desire, plan of action, and attainment of goal.