If only it were all downhill from here. Meghan Quirk photo.
It was 1 pm on a Saturday in the desert, and I found myself running through a canyon alone, 10 miles into a 25-mile training run. My friends had bailed because of the heat, but I had decided to soldier on, letting the blistering sun beat down on my shoulders for a few more hours.
No music, probably not enough water to get me back to my car without begging for donations from hikers, and only Shot Bloks for sustenance. The same question seemed to echo through my head and out into the empty canyon over and over: why the hell was I doing this again?
Because Type 2 fun, or the fun that mostly involves a lot of pain and suffering, is the best. Here’s why:
#1: IT TAKES YOU TO AMAZING PLACES
Summiting a peak above Ashburton Glacier, New Zealand. Carolyn Highland photo.
Type 1 fun will get you to your brunch reservation at 11 am and back to your couch afterward. Type 2 fun gets you up for sunrise. It brings you to the tallest peaks, the deepest pow, the bluest alpine lakes, and the farther away from your car than you maybe ever wanted to be.
Type 2 fun gets you to front row seats to the alpenglow on the rock spires at Torres del Paine. Type 2 fun gets you 36 miles along the rim of the Grand Canyon. Type 2 fun gets you to the summit of Longs Peak at 7:30 in the morning. Type 2 fun gets you through an ultramarathon in the snow. Type 2 fun gets you up to backcountry huts with a sled full of sausage and whiskey. And isn’t that really why we’re all here?
Type 2 fun gets you up to backcountry huts with a sled full of sausage and whiskey. And isn’t that really why we’re all here?
#2: IT MAKES YOU TOUGHER
Sausage and whiskey are not considered luxury items. Evan Jones photo.
Type 1 fun may get you through all six seasons of Game of Thrones at a blistering pace, or really drunk on a Saturday, but Type 2 fun will get you to do things you never thought possible. Giant hills you used to get tired just looking at will become things you run up on a regular basis. Distances you used to go in a week will now be crushed in a single day.
You’ll stop hearing that “I can’t” voice in your head and instead hear anything between the “Well, maybe…” and “Hell yeah!” variety. You’ll realize that waking up when it’s dark to go to work and waking up when it’s dark to drag your ass up to the top of something tall feel totally different. You’ll realize that your body is capable of so much more than you think it is.
And best of all, when you’re wading through whatever shit life inevitably throws at you, you can think to yourself: I’ll get through this; I run up hills for fun!
#3: YOU BOND WITH YOUR ADVENTURE PALS ON A WHOLE NEW LEVEL
Friends helping friends. Carolyn Highland photo.
When you have to bushwack uphill for several hours wearing 60-pound packs, or stay up all night bracing tent poles against howling wind with other people, you get close fast. A 2012 study out of the University of Germany showed that stressful situations lead to bonding and more cooperative behavior. Having to work together or rely on others while out in the backcountry or during long slogs feels more essential than it does in lower-stakes situations.
The level of trust you have with someone who will be responsible for digging you out of an avalanche is naturally far greater than that for someone who you merely trust to leave your Thai leftovers untouched in the fridge. That time you had to posthole uphill all day and then spend four hours making a bombproof glacier camp before waking up at 3:30 a.m. to summit suddenly becomes this thing you survived together. In those circumstances, time warps and people you’ve known a relatively short time feel like people you’ve known for lifetimes.
#4: IT GIVES YOU WAY BETTER STORIES
Soaking it all in on the approach. Carolyn Highland photo.
Not that everyone doesn’t want to hear about the time you were crazy hungover and lost a staring contest with a breakfast sandwich, but…really? It often seems that the worst things that have happened to us while adventuring become the most fun to tell about later. That time the wind snatched your gaiter out of a tent vestibule and you thought you were doomed for a snow-filled left ankle for the next month, until your buddy somehow miraculously stumbled upon it while trying to nail that money poop view? Your 6’2” expedition mate temporarily disappearing into a vegetation sinkhole right before your eyes while navigating an overgrown hill on the approach in the pouring rain? Can’t make that shit up.
And to all those bros patting themselves on the back in the singles line: There is a difference between telling a good story and listing exhaustive proof of your radness at someone. No one is trying to be forcibly regaled with tales of your badassery for 8 minutes. This is not the way to make friends– or get anyone’s phone number.
#5: YOU MAY EXPERIENCE SIDE EFFECTS LIKE "SPONTANEOUS JOY WHOOPS," "ADRENALINE HIGH," AND "FEELING GLAD TO BE A HUMAN ALIVE IN THIS UNIVERSE"
Photo evidence of exhibiting symptoms of spontaneous joy. Carolyn Highland photo.
When you do something difficult, the emotions involved are myriad and complex. You may pass through waves of misery, regret, self-loathing, discomfort, despair, frustration, hopelessness, and straight-up pain. But there will also be all of these other dizzying, incredible emotions, and it is perhaps the stark contrast that makes these experiences so powerful.
You will feel triumphant and strong and shocked and grateful and giddy and relieved and amazed and proud and alive. And sometimes these emotions will so fill you to the brim that you will actually cry tears of joy. You know that even though at least 50% of what you felt was negative, that these are the kinds of experiences that you will seek out again and again and again.
Because what we are looking for is not for things to be pleasant and easy. What we are looking for is to feel viscerally aware of the beauty and power of our presence on this planet, and making every second of that existence count.
From The Column: Women in the Mountains
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