Shackleton on Annapurna…

It’s a stinking hot late summer day and I’m thrashing uphill through chin-high vegetation in a steep and seemingly endless avalanche chute on the Montana-Idaho border, telling myself “This is good practice for the Appalachian Trail” even though I know the conditions aren’t even close.  But it keeps me going.

It’s a pep talk thing.  Having to hike as part of my work, I have lots of days of saying to myself “Wow, I can’t believe I get paid to do this,” but also plenty days where I grumble “They don’t pay me enough to be stumbling through swarms of biting flies in this grizzly-ridden, God-forsaken, crumbling talus.”  That’s where the pep talk comes in, when I get tired of my own complaints, and just need to slap my own whining mouth.

Enter Ernest Shackleton. In 1915, his ship, the Endurance, got frozen in the ice off Antarctica. That began a 16-month survival epic that culminated with Shackleton and a skeleton crew navigating an open boat through the icy waters of the South Atlantic to South Georgia Island, where he and two of his remaining crew attached screws to their boots, and with a 50-foot rope and a carpenter’s adze, made a winter crossing of the island’s mountains to reach a whaling station on the other side. It was a feat so difficult that it wasn’t duplicated until a fully-equipped mountaineering team made the trip in 1955.  So sometimes, when I start fussing about a trail being too steep, or the day too cold, or my feet too sore, or not having had enough food, I mutter to myself “Remember Shackleton.”

But as much as he provides me with company in my misery, Shackleton’s story gives me more of a push than a pull. The pull comes when I’m looking forward to something, and getting ready to tackle it.  A few years ago, I followed a long-time dream to trek the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, whose high point is the 17,700 foot Thorang La pass.  For a good year before that trip, there was no slope steep enough to merit a whine; all I had to do was whisper to myself, “Annapurna.”  This year, it’s the prospect of the AT, not as epic in height, but as difficult in its own way.   It’s kind of a play on an exasperated parent who finally thunders “Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to really cry about!”  except that it lightens my step and keeps me going, feeling like this will somehow make it easier to do that, even though it’s months out, and I a different part of the world.

I’ll load my Kindle with a copy of Endurance, the story of Shackleton’s voyage, to bring with me on the AT next year.  But maybe I should start planning a 2018 PCT or CDT hike while I’m at it, so I can have both the push and the pull things going.

What do other people do to keep themselves going when the going gets tough?  I’d like to hear your tips.

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