My right leg was a mess. I couldn’t tell if it was originating in my hip or my ankle—my ankle was swollen and wasn’t flexing properly and my entire right hip felt like it was stuck in a vice. No range of motion. The cold wind kicking up off the ocean was blowing hard now, the sun had fully retreated behind a cluster of dense clouds and my shirt was about six miles away, hidden halfway up a tree. I was also still trying to dig some debris out of my palm after catching a toe at the beginning of the run. Needless to say, I wasn’t having a very good day.
I came bombing down a covered section of single track and was kicked out onto a completely exposed fire road, offering me a view of the trail ahead. Directly in front of me was a steep section of loose talus (one of the few areas where I get any real scrambling done in the Santa Monica Mountains) that climbs 450 feet in roughly 200 yards. Directly to the right of that, the fire road continued to meander it’s way up and around toward the summit, maintaining a nice even grade, never too steep to cause problems for a truck.
The inner dialogue between the two opposing ideas that had just cropped up in my head began: “You’re all beat up right now, your right hip flexor is about to permanently seize up, you’ve got a quarter-sized piece of rock protruding from your hand, it’s cold and you’re tired. This time—just this one time—you should take it easy and follow the fire road up the switchbacks to the summit. No one else will ever know.”
“What?!? Fuck that!! You don’t run on fire roads!! You’re telling me that you’re going to pass on a rare opportunity to scramble because of a few minor aches and pains?!? You’re cold?!! It’s Southern California!! You wanna unpack your trekking poles for that fire road too?!? Maybe you should just lie down in the fetal position on the side of the trail until the next person comes along and you can borrow their iPhone to call in the search and rescue team.”
It suddenly dawned on me that the decision lying in front of me was a microcosm of what has happened to our culture. We’ve evolved (or devolved, depending on how you’d prefer to look at it) to the point where nothing necessarily has to be difficult. Comfort and convenience has become the only thing that matters. People literally waste 90 percent of their hard earned money on things that they certainly don’t need, but make life a little bit more comfortable or make something they already do a little bit more convenient.
Sure, you’ve got a perfectly good bicycle and you only live 4 miles from where you work, but you should probably take on a $300/month car payment because that way you get to sleep in 15 minutes longer and sit, completely un-exerted, in a climate controlled environment, never worrying pesky things like sweat or rain.
Sure, you’ve got a computer that works great but it can be so big and cumbersome at times. A tablet just fits in your hand so nicely, you don’t even need to put it down to wipe your ass.
Unfortunately for us and our ceaseless technological expansion, comfort, ease and convenience aren’t the pinnacle of our existence. Not a lot of growth happens when you’re comfortable. In fact, most of the time, it’s just the opposite. Comfort and convenience cause you to shrink. Just think about your life for a second… think about the times you’re most proud of or the times when you’ve really grown as a person. I seriously doubt that comfort played a large role.
When you’re surrounded by or presented with things that are difficult (like, for instance, mountains and nature), you’re forced to adapt, change, grow. When you are forced to overcome a demanding, inconvenient problem, you’re usually a better, smarter person for it.
Running 50 or 100 miles, climbing a 14,000 foot peak—these are the things that help us understand who we really are. These are the situations that force us to look at ourselves without the filters, stripped down to our essence. You can’t lie to yourself 75 miles into a 100 miler. These are the situations that effect change.
If you download an app so you can lay on the couch and push a few buttons and have your dinner delivered to your door—not only are you forfeiting a chance at personal expansion, you’re also perpetuating the cycle of fat, lazy convenience which with we’ve all become so obsessed.
My hip ached, my energy was low, I was cold. I wanted to go up the fire road. I wanted to take the easiest possible way out. As I took my first few steps up the steep talus slab, beginning my uncomfortable, inconvenient scramble toward the summit, I couldn’t help but smile. Leaving the fire road far below me in the distance, I knew—without a shred of doubt—I had made the right decision.