One of my favorite words is EPIC. I probably drive people nuts because I say it (as well as stellar) so often. Even my new business (Epic Life) even has the word in it. I have a lot of epic in my life. This is by design.
By epic, I mean something beyond scale, bigger than anything you’ve done before. By epic, I mean so difficult it will require, at times, a heroic effort; so difficult its outcome is uncertain; so difficult it will require skills you don’t currently have; so difficult it cannot be done alone — it requires a team. For all of these reasons, epic means unforgettable. You will never forget the experience.
One of my foremost passions is long distance day hiking. I like to hike far and fast in a single day. Some of my recent epic adventures include a 45-mile Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, a 50-mile traverse (day hike) of Zion National Park, a 32-mile Traverse day hike of Wyoming’s southern Wind River Range, a 2-week NOLS backpacking expedition in Alaska’s vast and remote Brooks Range, and many others. I also skate skied 50 miles in a day last winter.
I should say that, being from Lander, WY, where there are many world-class athletes in various outdoor pursuits, at least in Lander I consider myself merely “normal.” But most people, regardless of location, have the same reaction when I tell them of my love of hiking 30-50 miles in a single day. They look at me like I’m whacked, with confusion.
I’m developing a leadership coaching business for women that, as part of a package, will provide epic adventure(s). Recently, when telling a colleague about my plans, she responded with, “What I don’t understand is why you do these things.” In not so many words, she was saying this will be important for my marketing. (Thank you Debbie Cohen).
So, I’ve been thinking about this question. Why do I do these epic adventures? Here is my list of reasons. Of course, it is epic. 🙂
• Health benefit. To embark on an epic adventure, I need to be in great shape. This fact keeps me training at a high level throughout the year so that I can consider any audacious adventure that presents itself to me or that I find intriguing. Being super fit also ensures I’ll be able to keep up with our three young sons and my ambitious husband. (I wasn’t always this fit. It takes determination and commitment. But my level of participation – in all aspects of my life – has increased and improved as a result of my commitment to good health. I highly recommend it. It also helps when it comes to recovery. My legs were tired, but not sore, after the recent Zion traverse.)
• It’s a lot of work. I love the process of working, and the harder, the better. There is something about my heart pumping and the feel of my muscles working, my mind alternating between wandering and focusing that happens on these epic outings that makes me feel very alive.
• Nature. My senses are most alive when I’m outdoors in a spectacular natural setting. I’m talking about natural beauty that can move me to tears just by looking at it and taking it all in. The fresh air on my skin, the scents of the landscape and the songs of birds and sounds of animals are all present. It’s a very real connection I experience with nature.
• Mind clearing. You know the saying – “wherever you go, there you are” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). I show up to the trail with all my “stuff.” There could be lots on my mind, not much, all good, all bad, nothing special, something that is really special – whatever. Me, and all that matters to me in my world, show up. As the adventure gets under way, the solitude I’m afforded (which is provided even when I’m hiking with others) enables thoughts to get organized (“mapped”) in my mind. Mostly this is unconscious for me. Thoughts that are most pressing will rise to the top.
I can consciously choose to focus on something and try to keep my mind on that topic, or I can let my mind wander and let thoughts lead and lay where they may. The former takes effort as my mind wants to wander when I’m in open space, moving in a place surrounded by huge vistas. By the time I’ve completed the hike, I’m much more clear on many things. I have solved problems, prioritized, come up with brainstorms for solutions, written blog posts, re-played conversations that are important, made discoveries, etc.
• Camaraderie: It is amazing to share an epic adventure with other like-minded people. All of the epic adventures I’ve been on with others have provided a social aspect, as well as opportunities for solitude. The conversations that occur and that are shared along the trail add to the experience and the memories.
• Humility. In the natural places I’ve been and am drawn to, the views are remote and natural and rugged and enormous in scale. I feel insignificant in size, both with respect to the country that surrounds me, but also to the task at hand. This experience humbles me. I love that it does.
• Pilgrimage. The longer and harder (the more epic) the adventure, the more spiritual it is for me. Because the adventure is hard work and is very much a struggle, I become vulnerable. I find myself in an awe-inspiring place, with my senses completely awake, yet weak due to the effort. I always discover new truths about myself during this struggle.
• Mental toughness. Or, shall we say, an epic adventure provides an opportunity to practice “mind over matter.” During these epic hikes, there is always a crux, sometimes more than one, when things are at their most difficult, and I find that I am at choice. I want to quit. I have completely blister-damaged feet, or my legs hurt, or I’m out of energy, or it’s too arduous of a task to continue or finish, it’s closer to the start than the finish, or all of the above.
During these hardest times of the hike, the negotiations in my mind start. (And I’m a pretty effective negotiator!) I start arguing and settling and negotiating and reasoning with myself in my head. Examples: Well, if I don’t do the full 50 miles, that’s okay – 42 miles with this much elevation gain and loss is pretty awesome. Or: Well it was a long winter and I’ve only logged one 20-mile hike so far, so it would still be awesome if I were to stop after 36. Or: These conditions suck. There is no way anyone would finish this on a day like this, in these conditions.)
This crux – this place I describe above – is a very powerful place to be. It’s when I’m reminded of the many survival stories I’ve read and been in awe about, including the likes of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance or Unbroken, the survival story about Louie Zamperini. I think of these stories, and others, and talk about getting perspective real quickly! Suddenly my issues are tiny in size. And, it’s during this stage that I’m reminded that, in fact, we are at choice. Come to think of it, my being there was a choice. (Read VIKTOR FRANKL’S MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, which in so many words states that, Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you feel and do about what happens to you.)
During the crux (meltdown) of an epic adventure, the question I often ask myself is, How do I want this story to end? What is the story I want to tell about this? Of course as a writer, this context makes sense. The point is I get to decide, which is not always easy, especially since it would be easier to quit. On the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, I had major blisters on both feet by mile nine, and before the half-way point, both of my feet were totally blister-damaged. Every step (millions?) felt as if I were standing on needles or burning coals. However, for me, it’s often harder to quit and have the ending I don’t want, than it is to suck it up and do the rest of the work. (Please take note that blisters do not cause permanent damage so I didn’t view my continuing as reckless, just very difficult and painful.)
The power is in the fact that this is a choice that I get to make and that I live with that choice. I like the power of this and it serves as a metaphor for all the choices we get to make in our lives. (By the way, I have not always chose to end stories with “happy, successful endings.” I quit the Tahoe 50-mile run at mile 42 due to heat ailments, and I quit the Run to the Sun 37-mile event after 27 miles, because, well, I just didn’t want to finish. I learned from these non-finishes despite the fact they were not the endings I was going for.)
In short, these epic hikes provide me with practice for life’s challenges and hardships.
• Accomplishment. When I finish something that’s, by my standards, epic, I am a better leader as a result. This translates also into increased confidence that helps in all aspects of my life.
• Gratitude. Often, near the end of an epic adventure, some tears are shed. Most of them come as a result of gratitude that overwhelms me. Physical hardship (which causes vulnerability), natural beauty, and solitude combine to fill me with gratitude, especially for my family and friends, my abilities, the opportunity to have this experience, the scenery that surrounds me — not to mention that near the end, success is almost for certain! The final stage of the epic adventure becomes very personal, and devotional, for me.
• Becoming More, and Better.
Finally, the biggest reason I choose to pursue epic is because doing so causes me to become more, and better, than I was before.
So, there you have it. These are the reasons that I choose to do these epic adventures. There is no question I am better for them. I am healthier, have improved leadership, confidence and participation in my own life, have collected some interesting stories to share, have seen sights so stunning that they continue to inspire me, have formed lasting friendships as a result of these adventures, and feel more alive than ever. I have experienced change, and have grown. I am energized and fulfilled. It is my aim to facilitate the same epic experiences for my clients. (BTW, epic means different things for different people. An epic adventure for a client might be an eight-mile hike at altitude. Or more. Or less.)
I would love to hear your thoughts on epic adventures. Have you embarked on one? And, how did it affect and/or change you?
Epic Life, provides coaching that dares its clients to live as if they’re dying — as if every day counts. Epic Life dares you to go off-trail and uphill, to choose your own way even if it’s the hard way — especially if it’s the hard way. It’s about going farther than you’ve ever gone before. Epic Life is about changing your world. It’s about changing the world. Epic Life is about creating a life that takes your breath away — a life that is epic. Email me if you’re interested in learning more.