Not long ago I had lunch with my old pal James. It had been awhile.
“So whatcha been up to?” he said.
“Let’s see,” I replied. “Read a couple of books I enjoyed. Got some good runs in. Made a spaghetti sauce I was pleased with. You?”
“Well, this and that. Oh yeah: I climbed El Cap.”
That would be El Capitan.
For those of you who aren’t climbers, let me put this in perspective. El Capitan is a vertical wall of rock. It is 3,000 feet high.
When you think about climbing El Cap, imagine it as a sequence of steps. You put on a climbing harness. You walk up to the bottom of the thing. You step up onto the rock face. And then, sometime later, you hoist yourself over the top. By sometime, I mean days later.
In James’s case, it was three days. Eighty hours on the cliff face.
I hit him, I’m afraid, with the usual questions:
How do you go to the bathroom? (answer: adult diapers.)
How do you sleep? (answer: you either carry a portable hammock with you that you drive into the rock, or you look for a little ledge, sometimes as small in area as a casket or a toboggan. That’s what James did.
I asked him how hard it was.
He was silent for a moment. “I had prepared myself that it was going to be really, really hard,” he said. “And it was harder. Not so much physically – I’d trained for it. But psychologically. Just spending whole days with nothing underneath you. You wouldn’t think that would be so hard, but it totally gets to you. You feel undermined. I don’t know how you’d train for that except maybe being dangled below an airplane for ten or twelve hours.”
There were many times when he didn’t think he and his climbing partner would make it, he said. They hung in there. They made it.
But that wasn’t even the inspirational part.
They had aimed to finish the morning of the third day, but the climb took longer than expected and they didn’t finish till dusk. The car was parked pretty far away. There was a path. They decided to go for it. Turned out the path didn’t go to the car but snaked over into the next valley. Soon it was dark, and they were lost.
That’s when one turned to the other and said:
“Look at where we are right now. If you just dropped us into these circumstances – lost in the wilderness in a foreign country in the middle of the night, hungry and exhausted, we’d be terrified. But because of what we just accomplished, this is nothing. This is not stressful. The sun’ll be up soon and we’ll get our bearings and we’ll be fine.”
If ever there were a case for making a habit of nosing out of your comfort zone, this is it. The more you do, the more you can do. Whenever you do the more difficult thing instead of the easy thing, you’re making tomorrow more interesting. Make a habit of this and you’re liable to become dangerously impressive, like James.
He and I said goodbye to each other.
And then I went home to make a really dangerous spaghetti sauce