Do what you can
Injuries alway feel irrevocable; but they are opportunities. I can’t even say that we would be better off without them. Injuries have helped me taper, given me clear insight on deficiencies that I need to address, and have also showed me how unimportant a plan is. This doesn’t mean that I try and get injured, but I do appreciate being so.
This last little spill gave me the same sensation that always arises when I feel my body snap, that “fuck, now what?”; but I was able to look past it much quicker. I know what I need to work on, I can’t use the avenue that I prefer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make progress. Here is a little session, working around injury, none of these are things that “I like” but all are things that I need.
50x walking lunges
4x10 tempo belt squat @heavy
5x10 Bulgarian split squat
5x15 GHD sit up
10x30/30 assault runner
To be honest, I didn’t really want to even go. But I had committed to driving 3-hours south, into Utah’s mid-country, in order to be a part of a “horse experience”. It was one of those times saying “yes” seemed far enough away that its sound leaving the lips felt good, but as it loomed closer I remembered my schedule being busy with comfort. I know nothing about horses, especially wild horses or mustangs, colloquially. But after hearing our first instructions of “go and get one” I was curious; especially because our only guidance was that we should “go slower, faster”.
I fumbled around trying to comprehend the idea of getting into a horse psyche, which essentially, is to exist second by second. This means that the horse is a blank-slate in every instant, and is evaluating and reassessing in real time, it is unable to carry baggage from one experience to the next, like a browser without cookies. Unlike us upright apes, who approach it, spook it, get disappointed and effectively build a facade of failure that compounds and becomes the story of our identity that we carry into every interaction, We have a hard time releasing the past in order to guide the present, and this, is what i’m told is Mustang Medicine.
Being a prey animal means BE-ING, the future is a consequence of now, existence is only real in the moment, and especially won’t be unless you realize it. People love to puff their chest and pretend they’re “alpha”—mimicking the supposed dominance of predatory animals. You can pretend that you are a wolf, a lion or whatever but we are all prey to time; no one escapes the jaws of mortality. Mustangs, for all their “horse power” seem to realize their smallness in the universe, their perception and how they handle the moment—realizing truth in every instant—should be the envy of every species.
My horse, Smokey was a reflection of me. A disconcerting truth of how the external world perceives me. If he runs away, I’m a threat. If he fails to relax, he is unsure because I’m unsure, because I can’t relax. The best case scenario is that he puts up with me, allows me access and counter balances my clumsiness and lack of balance. But at any point he can push the ejection button...
It was hour four of our trek into the wilderness on wild horseback that I realized how draining the concentration was. The idea that I was somehow prepared for this had me floundering with thoughts that distracted from the task. Each case of inattention was corrected with a smack into a tree or a wandering off course into a void of scrub oak. My horse wandered off because I wandered off in my head.
It wasn’t till I wanted to be done that I was ready to learn, that I was ready to start, and thus the epiphany of laying with wild animals. If it was just the hardship of the ride, or the downpour that made my lack of preparation obvious that would be one thing, but it was also the mosquitos, for which their annoyance gave me perspective of how my horse might think of me, cocky, riding proud chested, like I had conquered some domain of nature. I was a pest and simply lucky that I wasn’t worth shaking off. But it wasn’t just that, it was the accumulation of it all. So far out of touch with any comfort that all I could do is lay with it, I had to give up and let go. I needed to be wild, but teachable.
Four-days into any effort and there are sure to be moments worth remembering. But do you really remember any lessons unless they bite back, unless a scar is there as a skin tablet, detailed like an ancient scroll of wisdom? For our stories to work they need to be “written in blood, bound in human flesh”.
I knew we were close, but we were lost for an hour trying to find a trail that only we used, so my expectations of the return were warped, and I lost time and hope. I had survived another brush with a sheer cliff on the back of a horse, that I’m told can only climb because if it’s wild nature. Naivety saved me energy when we were outbound, but now I was paying interest with each shaky step, knowing how reality unravels to those that know.
Expectations can hurt you, literally. Smokey was the type of horse that tended to dip into creek crossings, making me want to shift my weight back to give him better balance. But on this instance he decided that jumping an 8ft creek was easier. I met that change of direction in the form of a human catapult landing on my right wrist about 16ft from where I started. When I felt it snap I was angry, angry that I had lost attention, that I had created a fantasized future outcome simply to save energy. I was angry that I let my human nature and calculation for comfort take me from the moment. But I wasn’t angry with my horse, he simply just was, and was what I thought I wanted to be.
Smokey was unaffected. And finally, after four days and many thoughts I realized that I WAS affected. I felt the pressures of nature and the condolences of the stars, but most of all I felt the energy that can be created in a small group of friends mucking about in the woods.
I have no divine purpose, but if I could create one it would be to act as a reflection of the world I stand in—a mirror of appreciation among monsters and men, one that can see the gentleness of giants, and one that can smile when fate launches them, headfirst into an unknown future.
I would Like to to thank our guides West and Mike, who are invaluable teachers and students themselves. More info about them and their project can be found here.
For a deeper look into the experience:
I received a message recently that read: “I used to think you were an arrogant bastard, but the more I listen to you the less I believe that”... or something to that nature. It might vindicate some people to hear an impression going from negative to positive, I have to at least admit it feels good, but probably not for the right reasons; I’m not concerned with convincing people to like me, I’m just pleased that someone else has noticed that I change.
We pile on a heap of bullshit from the time we are born till the time (somewhere around our 2nd house, 3rd job, and 4th relationship) that we think we have it figured out. Our ideas and concepts of the world have—for the most part—been validated. Our friends have been made, our abilities and talents sorted, and our identities solidified, but to what end? What is the real use of becoming this seemingly unshapable human being? Why is it so hard to envision us being someone we aren’t?
What is it that you are actually doing, when you cut your hair just so or you exercise in just the way you’ve found to be most optimal? You certainly aren’t looking for change, because you haven’t in over a decade. I guess my real question is: why would you ever want to be the same person you are today?
Did you figure it all out? Is that 15lbs of “I don’t give a fuck” fat around your belly really the person you sought to be? Is your inability to climb a single level of stairs without getting winded the ideal you’ve worked so hard to achieve? Do you predictably drown yourself in booze every Friday night because it really relieves the tension from a life lived too well?
When we aim at being “lean”, we aren’t just referring to the excess tissue; we mean removing everything that is not useful. We mean taking into account the whole pile of rubbish that has been accumulated over a lifetime and going through bit by agonizing bit. This means clearing it down to the foundation, stripping away everything that doesn’t functionally keep you stable, and perhaps, in some cases, going beyond. We want to Rip up from the root the patterns and behaviors of comfort, the assumptions about ourselves and others; cutting away anything and everything in order to find out what is useful and what is not.
This is change, in the only way that matters. People won’t recognize you, because they shouldn’t—which more often than not makes them uncomfortable. That dear fellow that has seen the light and come to a fonder understanding of me is wrong, I was (and might still be) arrogant, but what I’m not is someone he knows. How can I be, when I barely know myself? I appreciate his ability to address what he believes is a wrong assumption, I’m just not someone who is ok with being who I was/am, so I change.
The only thing that hasn’t changed is the degree that I consider myself an excavationist, I’m just a different sort than I was before. All I can hope is that those who see me today won’t recognize me tomorrow, because I’m not finished yet, there is uselessness in ways that I think and assumptions that I’ve made. There is work to be done, or work to be undone.
13 rounds +7cals
In a 102F this can really give you a sense of what physical parts about your self are not useful.
Until we find the obstacle we are the obstacle.
That is, we will sink until we learn to float, we tread until we can finally glide through the water, and after all of that ability is attained, the distance will be there, waiting to take us under.
The misconception is that the obstacle is always out there, that it is external, separate, a void that we must step over, not into. But all impasses ARE us. Hills are only steep relative to the weakness of our legs and the capacity of our lungs. The water is only deep in relation to how far we sink. We fight the world because we forget we are OF it.
I knew that a DNF was inevitable. And like most, I’ve been taught that it’s better to not start than to not finish, so my fear was palpable; because it was learned. We fear what we know we deserve. In this instance, the terror was of 70+ miles and 10,000ft of elevation, but the pain wouldn’t be in the distance because I know I couldn’t make the distance, or at least doing so wouldn’t be helpful; the pain was in accepting failure. Finding the point on the path where I had reaped all that is useful. And then, finally, conceding; amidst a group that is furrow browed and determined, amidst my own ego, of wanting to hurt myself rather than hurt my own self-image.
All of that fear is put into the external world (as if there is such a thing), the pitches of sustained 15% grade climbing, the lack of preparation or other competitor’s better preparation, but the only thing worth fearing is our own expectations. The only concern is of the obstacle… of how we became the obstacle.
I like fear, it means I care about the outcome. It infers awareness. It also presupposes that fearing a bad outcome means—by definition—the possibility of a good one.
But we don’t see that silver lining, I certainly didn’t when I felt the click of my shoes and pedaled off into a drizzle with 600 other riders. But I did 2-hours later when my legs seized up and I unexpectedly fell to the side of the road next to a beautiful mountain lake. Sometimes the universe delivers, if only we show up.
There is always something, some “next level”, some other destination that gives the illusion of arrival, but it will always be around the next corner; always out of reach. Sometimes it is a finish line, sometimes it is being ok with not reaching one. I descended on a 10-mile stretch of empty dirt roads after the last of my group passed me—still full of hope. I don’t have hope, but I am free, free to realize that that hill behind me, is me, as is the one in front of me…
30min max rounds of:
6 rounds +40cal
ski erg cals
DB clean and jerk @ 2x50lbs
90min easy MTB ride