Denali – Fear vs Doubt

Okay – so it has been a REALLY long time since I last updated this. By really long, I mean several years. This is what happens when you give up your internet service, have a quasi-functioning laptop, and almost exclusively use your smartphone for all your internet needs. Yes, I could use it as a hot spot, but really who has time for that these days, especially when there is training and climbing to be done?

So my days of bike commuting have taken a bit of hiatus, but they will soon be returning when I depart the “big city” for Newport, RI. But first things first; climbing. The mountains have been calling and I have been expanding my climbing resume. In December I traveled to Ecuador where I ventured up some pretty awesome volcanoes – some with crampons, others with just plain old hiking boots. Although the 11pm wakeup calls weren’t exactly my forte, the early “mornings” were worth the night climbs and sunrise summits. You just can’t describe the awe and beauty of schlepping up a mountain (or volcano) at 2am, headlamp off, eyes staring at the meteor shower unfolding in front of you…or really seeing the Milky Way with your own eyes as if you were watching “Hubble” in IMAX. If these little moments were absent from any part of the climb, I’m not sure the mountains would call me so strongly, I live for these little moments. After my final summit at some odd 19,300 feet, I was sad to leave the mountains. I had just made it to my highest elevation, climbed some steep pitches, and felt energized, but there was still a yearning. I wasn’t ready to call it a day. The mountains were still calling.

Landing in D.C., I knew. I knew it was time to push myself. Ready or not, I wanted to go for Denali. The day after I got back to work, mind you after having taken almost 3 weeks off, I asked if I could take 30 days of leave to go to Alaska. Amazingly, they said yes. Oh crap. This means I leave for Denali in just over 6 months. Now I have accountability. I have to sign up for the trip. I have to train. Will I be ready? Is 6 months enough time? Did I really feel that strong? What did I do? FREAKING OUT. Okay ‘Bou, time to focus. Next came the spreadsheets with training schedules, a rock climbing membership, weight lifting, and pack time. Lots of pack time. Wait, how am I supposed to do all of this and work full time? And move. Did I mention I was moving to Rhode Island after I would return from Alaska? Um. What just happened? Okay ‘Bou, time to focus.

Well, the training progressed, the spreadsheets fell to the wayside after my boss quit and I had the jobs of two people instead of one. I had to keep the moments of anxiety and self-doubt at bay; some days with success and others required nachos and Ben & Jerry’s to cope. I submitted my climbing resume, they said I had the skill, doesn’t that count for something? I needed to believe in myself the way that others believed in me, but still, I struggled with shaking that feeling that I didn’t do enough, that my best wouldn’t be good enough. I don’t have any grand ideas or profound advice on how to shake the lingering doubt and fear. I can only advise that you accept it, embrace it, and hold it close to you. Hold onto the doubt, let the doubt be your motivation to do an extra set at the gym, go a few more flights of stairs, 5 more minutes, 1% more incline, and one more climb. But it is a balance, you can’t let the doubt turn to fear and take over. Doubt has its place; doubt can push you harder, doubt can make you say, “Oh really? I’ll show you. I CAN do this.” Yes, embrace the doubt, but you need to kick doubt to the curb or shove it back – when it starts pushing hard, or picks a fight with you on Facebook, you have to respond because you climb mountains. Take that doubt. I can do this. I’ll be okay. Fear, on the other hand, you have to unfollow/defriend/unlike. Fear can take over; fear can cripple. Doubt can push you or make you pause to better evaluate your options. Fear? Nope. We don’t have time for that. Fear makes you do irrational things. Fear isn’t an option.

Even as I’m flying to Alaska and writing this I have my doubts. I’ve worked hard, but did I work hard enough? I’m not sure those doubts and questions ever go away, but perhaps it is a good thing – if you go to the mountain believing “I’ve got this,” you may get complacent or caught off guard by what the mountain will throw at you. The mountain decides who summits, whether you trained for 6 years or 6 months for the climb, it is up to Denali to let you scale her ridge lines, navigate her crevasses, and slog up her pitches. Deep breath ‘Bou.

Happy Trails. Caribou out.

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