Friday, May 7, 2004
Bishop, California

After fourteen years of training, it’s necessary to be creative with methods of getting fit. The term ‘fit’ is a relative one: for sprinters it is far different than endurance athletes; for individual sport it varies from team that of team. As an endurance athlete, hundreds of hours go into that final performance. Being that my longest race lasts only just under or over seven minutes, it seems ludicrous to think of the massive training base it entails. To be competitive it takes the hours of a full-time job, only the clock-in and out is gauged in wattage output and calories spent.

For the past three years, the base of my training has been made up of bike tours. When I was younger I could function within the rigid confines of structured training, but after more than a decade I needed some change. Because my husband is an avid traveler, traversing the globe via bike and foot for longer than I have known such modes of travel exist, it seemed an easy transition to incorporate his trips into my training, and vise-versa.

The latest of such was finished only yesterday. Only this time, instead of on bike, we traveled by foot. The setting was California, a place I lived and trained as a cyclist for over three years, with the goal of traversing the Desert Mountains of the Inyo/White range. Flowing north-south, spanning over 150 kilometers, much of the range reaching over 10,000 feet and up to 14,200 feet at its peak, the range is accessible mainly via old mining roads and the most rugged of trails. Much of the range is free of any established road or trail, making maps and compasses our main guides.

Where to being upon reflection is a difficult task. Do I start with the feeling of seventy-pounds the most minimal stash of food, water and clothing on my back; or perhaps the toil of the seventh hour of hiking above 10,000 feet, and still not a suitable place to camp in sight; or perhaps running out of food and having to ration dwindling supplies over a three-day period, leaving Peter and I each with less than 2,000 calories a day for the seven hour daily trek; or when looking into my water bottle at the snow melted to drink only to see bugs, dirt and sediment swirling around like the clouds whipping across the sky above while being all but blown off the ridge dropping steeply right and left, so, so thirsty, but too disgusted to drink; or maybe the feeling of asking a complete stranger for help to get the food cache too far up the road when we had not a calorie left to carry us another step, met with no hesitation and a helpful hand when we needed it most; what about the mystical feel of walking through saddles lined with the chipped glass-like obsidian from hundreds of years prior when the natives roamed the very land we walked, in search of animals to hunt with the same arrow head points….the list continues, some of the most difficult, trying times already romanticized in my memory bank.

The lessons garnered from such an epic period of thirteen intense days on the trail are invaluable, unattainable insights not presented in any situation but that of hardship. The world we live in does not allow for much of this and I will continue to pull myself out of what is sound, structured, predictable and safe. Only when one is stripped down of all the clutter one’s life entails, and asked to carry the barest of necessities for even a day, can any sort of perspective be gained. At least for me.

I found myself questioning perspective, a word I often use and think of as ‘looking at the big picture,’ and all the common clichés that go with the word. When I found myself looking down at the next set of mountains we had to contour around, up and over, everything seemed so simple and clear. Yet, when I got into that very section, it was so overwhelming and unclear. Thus, I realized, it is important to step back and get that big picture, but equally important to immerse oneself in the reality of getting through, or to, the next goal.

Frustration mounted when we were lost, unable to sort the mass of rocky, scree-covered peaks laid out before us. We chose the path of least resistance when all maps were set aside. By following the ever-changing landscape, we began to find the way. Yet there were days when we needed the maps: to find a spring when out of water, or to identify roads like scars on a crash-victim lining the hills ahead. It was important to be flexible; vital to be aware and in tune with the terrain.

So, after thirteen days, over eighty hours and many nights sleeping under the stars hovering above the Inyo/White Mountains, I am left with a sense of peace words cannot come close to describing. When I think of athletes sleeping in pressurized tents, in laboratories with harsh neon-lighting, hoping to gain the edge high-altitude training induces, I feel rich beyond numerical bounds thinking of the strength I’ve gained by my own version of altitude training. The sights, sounds and struggle will get me through any and everything that attempts to block my path: the path of least resistance.