In 2008 I accomplished the hardest physical task of my life. No it did not have anything to do with weightlifting. 14,505′. In the continental US, there is none higher. Mount Whitney is a “top of the world” idea of a mountain. The adventure became a microcosm of my life. It had to be the tallest. I only do great things, and I do them mediocrely. I have this idea in my life that the things I do and choose are what define me, and not how I choose to do them necessarily. I know this is backwards. Just the fact that I chose Mount Whitney I thought made me great. As is often true in my life, I find challenges that are maybe just outside of my reach and often come short.
Most people who hike Mount Whitney take the main trail. 11 miles covering about 7000 vertical feet. Some people split this 14 hour hike into 2 days stopping at a base camp at 12,000′. Then there’s the mountaineers route. A 6 mile hike covering the same vertical distance. Obviously twice as steep. Almost everyone does this in 2 days. Not us… NOOO. we had to be great. So myself, 3 very fit firefighters, and a guy who once ran 100 miles in a day, all started off before sun up.
Something funny happens to you at around 13,000 feet. Brain function slows to a TV watching pace. The body only does the things it can do easily. Sometimes that does not include walking. Senses are lowered and emotions are heightened. I cried 7 times in the last 4 hours of the hike. Once because I missed my wife, once because I thought I was finished, and once because I thought I was going to die or had already. I spoke aloud to a marmot for what seemed like 3 hours. Very irrational.
I made it back down just as the sun was going down. I had gotten lost and literally was making plans to survive the night and had accepted the idea that I was probably going to die. That’s an indescribable feeling. I wasn’t scared though. I walked back into camp, surprisingly full of energy. The ladies who stayed back had prepared Tri-Tip with impeccable timing. I lost 14 pounds on the hike. I needed to replace it. I wasn’t tired. I just wanted to sit, and eat and not talk. I sat for a while. Next thing I remember it was well past 10PM. It was dark. I was sitting by the fire and almost everyone had gone to bed. Me and 4 women remained awake silent by the fire.
My peace was interrupted by a clanging sound about 30 feet behind me. I stood up, grabbed my flashlight and turned around to find 2 shiny white eyes staring back at me. Those eyes belonged to a 500 pound bear with a mouth full of pancake mix. We hadn’t put everything away and closed the bear lockers yet and this young lady was coming for a late dinner. Tri-tip smells good. Let me stop and say that there are a few things I am afraid of, 4 legged animals that are bigger than me are one of them. I was terrified. I looked around and the 4 ladies stood behind me huddled together. It was up to me I guessed. I shooed and waved my flashlight, hoping my manliness would scare her away. If bears can smell fear, mine was potent. Then I made a choice. It was the second time that day I had resigned myself to the possibility of death. I picked up the hatchet near the fire pit, stood tall, dug in my feet and then… I went. As fast, as tall and as loud as I could, straight at the bear. My plan and hope was that my show of force would scare her away. It did. Plan B… well I guess I didn’t have one. Fight a bear I guess.
Will Smith said, “theres no reason to have a plan B because it distract us from plan A.” Now I’m not some up in the clouds kinda guy that believes this to be strictly true, but it has some application. Life, love, religion and weightlifting alike. In religion we say things like “God can provide all my needs.” or “God will keep me safe,” but we sure have a lot of back-ups, or plan Bs if you will just in case God does not come through. I want God to be my plan A, and have no distracting plan B in this scenario. In weightlifting I see this everyday. The reason people miss Jerks is because they have 2 plans. They push on the weight to see if it’s there and only then will they commit to pushing themselves under the bar. There is no “if then” in weightlifting. I mostly see this in Crossfit gyms. A lot of Crossfitters Power Clean more than they Clean, simply for the fact that they are afraid to fall under a barbell. I still have not met a Crossfitter who Jerks more than they Clean. Plan A, push yourself under the bar. NO PLAN B! Or as Yoda would say. “do or do not, there is no try.”