Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Failure is an Option.

When was the last time
you pushed yourself to the breaking point, physically, mentally, emotionally - any of the above. How can one know one’s limits until standing at that precipice and looking down and tossing a couple stones into the valley?

There’s a certain comfort that comes from failure. Not failure in the sense of not achieving a goal – but more along the lines of Underwriters Laboratories type failure, knowing that instant when the aluminum step ladder will buckle under a certain weight or how many chickens shot from a cannon does it take to crack the windshield on a 737. Destructive testing is the monikor.

A lot of the physical fitness things I do require me to work ‘til breakdown – whether it is lifting in the gym, running a tri or attempting to peddle a bike up to the top of Mount Lemon in Tucson or more recently Monte Alban outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. One time I was rock climbing with my oldest son in the hills of West by god Virginia, I was trying to make it up a forty foot wall that he had skittled up like a house gecko. The holds were iffy and I was tethered to a harness, but I wanted to try and erase that safety factor from my mind. I did my best to imagine that there was nothing holding me to the face of that rock other than my hands and feet, I wanted to convince myself that if I fell it would be without the proverbial safety net. I hoped that tricking my mind into believing I was actually in a life threatening proposition would spur me onto success.

I fell, several times, swinging at the end of the rope like the pendulum of a clock. In fact I never did make it up that rock. Similarly, last week, as I was making the mile plus high climb up to the Zapotec ruins atop Monte Alban I failed. I eventually had to get off my rented mountain bike and walk one or two of the ten kilometers of the winding road up. Legs burning, lungs sucking in the thin air, I was forced to admit to myself that I couldn’t make it all the way in the saddle as the rate of my forward progress could no longer keep me upright. (I did get back on with a half kilometer or so to go so that I arrived at the site atop the cycle just in case anyone was watching.)

On the other hand, I did get to the ruins under my own power – and that was an accomplishment. Not the goal I had originally set for myself – but still not too shabby. Also, now knowing the lay of the land I think I might be able to make it the whole way next time. The point is though, I would never have known without trying. Like I say, it’s not so much that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger as it is amazing what one can survive when pushed a bit.

Yesterday Sara and I had the inaugural festivities on the tube all day. What do you think - are we getting back on that bike to finish the climb now?


sara holbrook said...

The road is still long and the climb is still steep . . .

smith said...

your monte album climb amazed us - we thought the taxi ride up the mountain was exciting.

as for america's climb - it is a long one but i have hope with obama.