I bragged on the intertoobz recently about some interval workout that I did where I made myself nauseous. My dad asked me why I would push myself so hard. Wasn’t I more interested in doing a sport for enjoyment over a long period of time? Wasn’t that more important than beating myself up and risking injury?
It’s a good question. Why go out and make yourself cross-eyed running or skiing as fast as you can? It hurts. And I’m a 46 year old age-grouper who’s never logged more than 300 hours of training in a year. The “training” I’m doing will only move the needle from mediocre to slightly above average.
(I also find the question from my dad ironic. He used to run 10k’s in 36 minutes in his forties. Fight forest fires. He used to do mountain search and rescue in blizzards when he was younger. You know. Pretty much a cubicle dweller, couch potato. Thanks for your concern, Dad.)
I was with the family at the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour stop in Duluth. Cool fundraiser for the Duluth Cross Country Ski Club. One of the films was “The Sufferfest” about Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright climbing all the fourteeners in California and traveling between the climbs on bikes. They described something called “Type II” fun. My mind exploded. I’d always known it, but never heard it labeled. Type II fun is the kind of fun that is only fun in retrospect. Type I fun is like Sunday pancakes or gin-and-tonics. It’s fun at the time and in memory. Type III fun is not fun at the time. And it’s not fun looking back at it either. Maybe Type III isn’t fun at all? Maybe it was a try for Type II fun that overshoots? I digress.
My mind raced as I thought of all the times I did stuff that I look back on fondly, but were miserable at the time:
-My first camping trip. Maybe my first outdoor memory. Little Unknown Pond in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. My dad and his old buddy and me. Rain. Black flies. Mosquitos. Tiny little trout the size of sardines. Just chock full of bones. My five year-old brain might have been imprinted right there. Maybe that’s why I curl into the fetal position every time I smell DEET.
-My first 50k ski race. The improbably named Sonot Kkaazoot (it means “sliding around on the snow in springtime” in Athabaskan) in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1994. Never got warmer than -10F. The snow had the sliding properties of sand. I just remember fumbling for the keys to my truck afterwards and seeing the steam rise off me. My hands were frozen into clubs. Four hours of lusciousness.
-Overnight hike through Linville Gorge in North Carolina with my buddy Jon Wiesinger. We started too late in the day to climb a neighboring peak above the river gorge we were descending. I’ve never had lightning strike so close to me. No separation between flash and thunder. I’ve never run quite so fast downhill. I’ve never come closer to actually crapping my pants.
-Climbing Mt. Timpanogos in Utah. Weird. Another one with Jon Wiesinger. 2001. He flew all the way out from Michigan so we climbed up into the clouds with embedded cumulus. You could hear thunder somewhere off in the gray. And the special bonus of an altitude headache, something that had never happened to me before. At the summit, I could almost see my hand in the mist and I thought my head was going to explode like a zit. Good times.
Type I fun fades. Like the nice egg nog in my coffee right now. Fun. Pleasant. I don’t have too many Type III fun experiences. Maybe the stretch from Chambers Grove to where you leave Highway 23 in the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon I did this summer. I almost wept.
But I seem to have mastered how to gun for a Type II experience. I think my reason is for a story. For a memory. For a laugh. There are no mosquitos in your stew while you tell the story about it. There is no ten-hour rainstorm while you are tentless rolled up in a tarp like a burrito on the side of Mount Monarch. Not while you’re telling the story about it. It doesn’t exist anymore.
Beating myself up seems to be the direct route to Type II fun for this city-dwelling, middle-aged silverback. I’ll never climb Everest. Or ski to the North Pole. (I did manage to attempt Mt. Rainier this year. But that’s rare. Maybe once in a lifetime.)
Adventure has to be in my mind. My Fun Dome. I can go find my limits, create a story, and make a memory, five minutes away running on the stone steps that wind up Tischer Creek. Trying to freeze time. To preserve a piece of life in amber. I just have to be willing to absorb some self-induced punishment. I mean, fun.