Last weekend, despite the flurry of sleet and snow and rain- I decided to go on an off-trail exploratory trek to an area not far from my home in the White River National Forest, in western Colorado. I had no reason to go out- no real purpose; I simply needed to move, to claw and scramble through thick brush. To push up high vantage points. To see and smell animal sign. After a hard week of construction work, getting alone time in the woods is essential for me.
After my 5 hour hike of random uselessness, I had crossed an angry torrent of spring run-off, had climbed two steep slops, and had walked up and down two narrow ridge-lines. I found the tracks of a sow and cub black bear, and later- even the even fresher tracks and daybed of a lone bear. I saw a few deer and elk, but otherwise, the trip was pretty uneventful.
When I drove home, I arrived soaking wet, dog-tired, and sore. My wife asked me how the hike was, and I thought about it for a second. And then replied, “Pretty good, I didn’t see much- but I hurt, and sometimes it feels good to hurt on a hike.”
My wife understood exactly what I was talking about. Sometimes its not enough to just go walking on a well-groomed trail. Sometimes you need to take the hardest, steepest route, for the most unremarkable small adventure. It is through the suffering and difficulty, that you feel satisfied with your accomplishment; even if you didn’t accomplish anything at all.
Some of my fondest memories in Africa, involve type 2 fun; experiences I found miserable while they were taking place, but that I can look back on fondly now and think, “That was a great experience!” It is, in fact, the suffering that makes those journeys distinguished enough to be well-remembered, long after other memories are gone.
In particular, I remember the night I spent in the pouring rain while on a 3 day trek with a Fulani African in the Chinko basin. We had not expected rain at that time of the dry year, and thus had not brought a shelter with us. When a micro burst hit the forest we found ourselves walking through, and trees and branches came crashing down around us, we knew we didn’t have long before the rain would unload. We quickly built a roaring fire, and then preceded to build a small lean-to shelter of large, rainforest leaves, in which we could take turns sleeping. It poured on us, and I got so wet, that I found shedding my clothes and wrapping a space blanket around me was the most comfortable option in the misery. Needless to say, the night was dreadfully long, and I was completely miserable the entire time. But the next day, with the sun shining and gorgeous views all around, the terrible night was all but forgotten. Now, when I look back on the memory, I am completely impressed with how we handled ourselves in that situation: sleeping without a shelter in a pouring rain storm! Even though I would never voluntarily repeat the experience, I can appreciate now that it was through the suffering that I was able to build my character, at the ripe-young age of 20.
In closing, I found a line from Wilifred Thesenger’s, //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=adamparkison-20&marketplace=amazon®ion=US&placement=0141442077&asins=0141442077&linkId=010c44fc8dbe4441ab26b0879127ddd6&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>”Arabian Sands,” to be especially relate-able to the subject of suffering:
‘‘Always, our rifles were in our hands and our eyes searching the horizon. Hunger, thirst, heat, and cold: I had tasted them in full during those six months, and had endured the strain of living among an alien people who made no allowance for weakness…But I knew instinctively that it was the very hardness of life in the desert which drew me back there- it was the same pull which takes men back to the polar ice, to high mountains, and to the sea…Much of it was unexplored. It was one of the very few places where I could satisfy an urge to go where others had not been.’’