My friend Brett and I have certain traditions that we’ve loosely kept up through our ten years of friendship. One such tradition is our annual New Year’s Eve trip to the mountains.
It’s a loosely held tradition, but one we’ve been loyal to the past few years. NYE 2014 was no different. In fact, it had been such a given that we really didn’t even discuss “if” it was going to happen, rather we simply confirmed the time he’d be at my house.
For me, the day turned out to be a perfect look back at the previous 364 days of my year.
I was tired. I had actually awoken before my alarm went off which was pretty much how my year had gone. This past year I never really felt rested. Instead, I’ve felt restless. I’ve had incredible enthusiasm for my work, my play and my life, but I had only been able to really pair that with minimal bursts of the energy I needed to achieve my goals.
When I wake before my alarm goes off, it gives me too much time to think. It may sound funny, but I don’t like having that much time to think. Too much time gives me time to overthink.
Overthinking is counterproductive to being productive. At least, it is for me. I’ve discovered I’m better at accomplishing my goals when I jump in with both feet and get going.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
So my day began relatively alone, in the dark, thinking about how tired I was, how cold the room was (we’d been having a cold week with nights getting down to freezing. In southern California! I know!!!) and how warm and comfortable I was in bed.
I got up anyway.
Bathroom. Teeth. Clothes. Coffee. Bagel. Finished loading my pack. Boots on.
Brett arrived. Early. We’d be getting that much earlier of a start, it was going to be a good day. Our plan was Mt. Baldy summit. 9 miles roundtrip. 3,900 feet of gain. 10,064 foot summit.
It had really stormed the day before. High winds. Extremely low temperatures. SNOW. The trip would be a true alpine adventure. Before long we were on the road, excitedly chatty and holding our coffees close to help keep us warm. The winds were still high and the temps were still low.
In the darkness the truck accelerated up the mountain road we’d traveled countless times before. Unfortunately, not a quarter of the way to our destination we were stopped with a road closed sign.
Yep, this was pretty indicative of my year. Intended goals thwarted by circumstance.
The high winds and low temperatures had dropped the freezing level to nearly 3,000 feet. For Mt. Baldy, that’s a lower altitude than the village, which for us was over 3,000 feet lower than where we needed to be for our climb. The Highway Patrol officer who had the road closed told us that a dozen or so cars had been stranded the day before and had needed to be rescued by the Fire Department. Those people were not taken down the mountain, rather taken higher up into the village to stay at the lodge. Black ice covered the road. Conditions were bad.
And yet, we were actually given the choice to continue going up. During the season, I keep chains in my truck just for this reason. But the CHP officer had told us that even cars with chains had been stranded. We were told that plows were on the road trying to clear it and that they were also tossing gravel to help. The village was expecting a number of people due to the snow and the holiday. The residents of the community wanted in and out.
Brett and I debated our options. I’m experienced on driving on black ice. I have the chains for the truck. Still, driving in those conditions when you have to is one thing, choosing to do so is another thing. We had a long way to go to get to our destination. A long way of traveling across sketchy roads.
We chose Plan B. A seemingly exposed and scenic trail that we’d never been on, much lower on the mountain. It was accessible, but we wouldn’t need our snow and ice tools. It wouldn’t quite be the adventure we were hoping for, but we’d still be outdoors. And a new trail might offer some wonderful surprises.
In 2014 I had found that alternate plans didn’t meet my expectations to satisfaction. I’m consoled by the fact that this year’s failures have proven to be valuable learning experiences. When Plan A goes out the window, I go on a mental tilt. My expectation consumes me. I’m like a little boy who doesn’t get his way and kind of has a tantrum. It doesn’t sound flattering, I know. Especially when I type it out. But it was important for me to learn that emotionally I go through this stage. It taught me something critical to success.
New Year’s Eve was a clear example of this process. Plan A, Mt. Baldy summit, was essentially put out of reach due to conditions and a little common sense. I’m only comfortable with calculated risk, of which I didn’t see icy roads an acceptable risk. Plan B, it turned out, was my tantrum. We started on the trail, a graffiti and trash ridden path easily accessible to those to obviously have no respect for the mountain, the outdoors or others who wish to enjoy such things as close to its natural state as humanly possible. From the very first step, I hated it. I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy being on that path.
And whether it would have met my expectations in other circumstances, it was not satisfying my goal of adventure for the day. The trail was hidden, difficult to travel on and wasn’t the exposed ridge with awesome scenery I expected it to be. We did rise a few hundred feet to a spot we could see the main road up the mountain.
Cars were flying up the road where just a half hour prior we had been stopped. The sun was up and we could see across the canyon clearly. The road was definitely open! I wasted no time in making my argument that we should go back to the truck and see how far we could get up the mountain ourselves. The previous concerns still held merit, but if front wheel drive Toyota Corollas where heading up, I felt pretty good about my chances. Brett was total game.
We passed the dozen or so cars that had been stranded on the road, like a Stephen King novel come to life. As we entered the village, the road became more treacherous, and the black ice gave me pause. We still had a few miles to go before getting where we wanted, with steep and tight winding switchbacks. Not ideal conditions for driving. We could stop at the village and walk the road toward the Sunset Peak trailhead. The ridgeline trail is a dramatic hike and a worthy substitute for the high mountain trails up Baldy. The temperature was in the low thirties and the winds were still blowing about 30mph with up to 60mph gusts. For me, Sunset Peak would be an acceptable Plan C.
And so it was, our Black Friday destination had also become our New Year’s Eve destination.
The alpine conditions on Sunset Peak were a stark contrast to the dry and relative warm conditions we’d experienced on the same trail a month before. Though the snow didn’t require crampons and ice axe for safety, it still offered some challenges on the steep sections. In reality, it was the wind that presented the biggest obstacle to comfort. Gusting winds up to 60mph have a way of biting right through even the most technologically advanced adventure clothing.
This was another similarity to my year. I had made plans and goals, was distracted from those goals for various reasons, ultimately scuttling any Plan B goal I had set for lack of want/interest/desire, to finally settle into a Plan C I was both comfortable and content with. However, Plan C was never without its challenges either, and I discovered during my year what I had discovered on that mountain, Plan C often comes with the overwhelming feeling of discomfort and a nagging sense to quit.
“It’s alright if you want to quit, as long as you don’t.”
I’ve been working hard at mastering the mental game that is mountaineering. That nagging sense in the back of the mind when pain and misery set in of how much happier I’d be sitting in my favorite chair with a cup of coffee and my laptop. But the truth is, I wouldn’t be happier. I’d be more comfortable, and they aren’t the same thing.
I was bitterly cold on that ridgeline trail on New Year’s Eve. Bundled up in my best gear, exerting myself the best I could, looking out over the massive urban sprawl of southern California, enduring the cold temperatures and icy wind. Oh and in those conditions my nose runs like a faucet, so there’s that. It’s important to note because when your nose drips and it’s freakin’ cold outside, every single time you rub it clean it feels like you’re peeling layers of skin.
Cold? Yes. Having a fantastic time? Hell yes!
It was during the misery that I truly realized the secret to my success and happiness was in perseverance. This is nothing new, I know. Most experts will tell you that perseverance is key. I advise others the same. What hit me as unique was that I’ve always viewed perseverance as key to goal setting and achievement of Plan A. It never occurred to me I need the same perseverance and determination to be happy and achieve Plan C goals.
Some Plan B goals (maybe most?) are worthy alternatives to Plan A goals put out of reach. For me, I think, Plan B becomes the rebound relationship I’m in no way interested in or prepared to commit any time and effort to. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. Occasionally I’ll settle for Plan B, but what I really need to do is get the mental tilt phase out of my system and move on to Plan C.
And then persevere to achieve the Plan C goals, no matter what.
This New Year’s Eve Revelation soon became my New Year’s Resolution. New Year, New Rules. And my year started with breaking old rules. Typically, I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. I stress to others to not put emphasis on beginning of the year goal making, rather make goals as you see fit during the year. If you want to lose weight in June are you going to wait until January 1st to start doing something about it? No. Just do it…NOW! But, my new year began with an epiphany of sorts, which made it rather convenient to make New Year’s Resolutions.
Resolution #2: Break My Own Rules.
I vow to break my own rules when I feel they prevent me from achieving my goals. Anything is possible in 2015, and I’m determined to make this the best year yet. No excuses. I’m determined to persevere through the funk that was last year. I’m happy you’re here to share my journey. Like a friend reminds me…The ripples are getting bigger.
What goals do you have for 2015?
Current 2015 Resolutions:
#1 – More Adventure
#2 – Break My Own Rules
#3 – New Year, New Adventure
#4 – Write More