24 August 2011

The Power of No (Subtitle: Mud)

I’m not playing the Company Man but perhaps the Corporate Gods for whom I work are onto something. My firm recently rolled out a new marketing slogan, “The Power of We”. It’s supposed to highlight what can be accomplished when people are empowered to work together collaboratively (and of course, make them want to buy our collaboration-enabling technology). A bit corny? Perhaps. But consider the opposite, “The Power of No”. It’s powerful, and we (not the corporate we but a more personal we) had to defeat it last week.

The Power of No. It’s easy to say no, to find reasons not to do something, and frankly, sometimes it’s prudent to do so. In the case in point, there was a fine tipping line between the prudence of saying no and saying no because it was an easier, more comfortable choice. But what’s interesting here is that the Power of We defeated the Power of No. And it took We to do it.

Yes, this is a hiking story, but it can be applied to just about anything, including running, so it graces the pages of said running blog.

About this time of year my clan usually slogs up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and goes peak-bagging (alternated with swimming and doing generally nothing, all good things), but this year we had the pleasure of an invitation from our neighbors to spend a few days at their family camp house in New York’s Adirondacks. Sort of a tacit part of the deal was that I’d strike out with their teenage son on some significant hike, since his clan isn’t into the bigger stuff while he, at the ripe old age of fifteen, is already closing in on completing his Adirondack Forty Sixers. Not that this was any skin off my back; indeed, I live for this stuff.

Now, the Adirondack Forty Sixers is a somewhat quirky list of summits. As you might guess, there are forty-six of them. Not too dissimilar from the forty-eight New Hampshire Four-Thousand Footers, except that the Forty Sixers include a few mistakes. Knowing that surveying has been a rather precise science for a long, long time, I am somewhat mystified as to how they got these so wrong, but they did. In fact there are only forty-four summits in the ‘dacks that reach or exceed four thousand feet, but one of them, MacNaughton Mountain, wasn’t believed to be four thousand feet and was therefore left off – and remains off – the list. Three others, however, which were erroneously believed to be four thousand feet were put on – and remain on – the list. Two of these, Blake and Cliff, just miss the golden altitude. And then there’s Couchsechraga.

Every list has its “insult” summits. In the Whites, they are Owl’s Head and Isolation, two summits just barely over four thousand feet – so you have to do them – and so far into the woods that you wish you didn’t. In the Adirondacks, Couchsechraga is the “insult” summit. So far into the woods, and not even close to four thousand feet (how did they get this so wrong?), but you have to do it. And to make the slap in the face even harder, you have to pass over a forty-two-hundred-foot ridge, descend eight hundred feet, then climb again to reach its paltry thirty-eight-hundred-foot summit. Then retrace your steps to get out. And all of this is on herd paths, unmaintained trails sporting all sorts of injurious and mucky joys. The name is Algonquin for “Dismal Wilderness”. It shows.

Well before our departure for the ‘dacks, Intrepid Young Hiking Partner provided me a list of the peaks he needed to bag. Nestled in that inventory was Couchsechraga. A quick jaunt to my favorite ‘dacks hiking reference site reminded me of what this was all about. Sixteen and a half miles. Mud. Herd paths. Mud. Climbing up streams. Mud. Bogs. Mud. Three summits to cover in the Santanoni Range. Mud. Did I mention mud? Yes, mud.

That’s easy. No. Plenty of others on his list. And as I don’t get to the ‘dacks all that often, the chances of me finishing my Forty Sixers are slim. So I don’t care a hoot about Couchsechraga.

But Intrepid Young Hiking Partner worked me past the Power of No, and the plan was set. We beats No, part one. We would do this, and we would do it in a single day, unlike most who backpack in, camp, and accomplish these summits in a sane manner.

The day before our planned adventure, we didn’t get rain. To steal my daughter’s favorite adjective of the moment, we got Epic Rain. A solid day of constant downpour. Streams around the ‘dack house, normally dry all summer, ran to overflowing. Not steady rain through the night, but absurdly intensified rain, all too apparent as I half-snoozed on the screened sleeping porch. Dry and comfy, but pretty much like listening to the rain on your tent. With the clock set for a quarter to six. Groan.

Six AM. Intrepid Partner is wide awake and surfing the NOAA website, insisting that the rain will move out shortly. Age & experience versus blind youthful energy. We’ve just had Epic Rain. We’re looking at unmaintained herd paths, read, plenty of *wet* foliage to soak us to hypothermia. We’re climbing streams. We’re crossing bogs. We’ve read of the legendary mud. On good days. Which this is not.

No. This is just not prudent. And frankly, I’m not keen on spending the day soaked to the skin.

But Intrepid Partner wouldn’t hear it. OK, perhaps we target an alternate summit, but we’re going to that distant trailhead, an hour away. And en-route, once again, he brings me around. We’ll give it a shot. Couchsechraga and the Santanoni Range. We beats No, part two.

Seven forty AM, the rain stopped twenty minutes earlier, and we’re on the trail. It’s four and a half miles on “real” trails, which means only that we’re not yet getting soaked from encroaching foliage, but the mud is already legendary. These are not trails. These are routes through swamps.

We reach the start of the herd path. Within fifty feet we’re faced with a twelve-foot crossing of a beaver pond on a floating, loose log. It’s deeper than we can find sticks to provide balance. Gingerly, we make it, only to find ourselves brushing through brush along the pond to find the path. Soaked already. Didn’t I tell you, NO?

Yet many drips, splats, slips, and a mile of climbing a stream later, we reach the ridge at a place called Times Square, as it’s the central meeting point of the herd path in and the three paths leading to the three summits. Of course, we drop a ball we’ve brought along. It is, after all, Times Square.

Next, it’s off to Couchsechraga, the toughest objective first. And here’s where the funny part happens.

Five minutes from Times Square, nearly four hours into the muck and mud and slick and slop, having topped the ridge at forty-two-hundred feet and now heading down towards Couchsechraga, we find the path entirely, completely, unavoidable, and deeply, flooded beyond passage. And the Power of No strikes the other way.

Intrepid Young Hiking Partner seems to have had it. He actually suggests giving up on Couchsechraga. He says no.

This is really the point of this whole story. In life, we lift each other over the hurdles we face. We can’t do it all alone, no matter how strong we think we are. We all have our moments of weakness, moments when our resolve loses resolution, moments when the Power of No takes over. Each of us would have abandoned this effort at one point or another. But as We, we can press on.

I knock some sense into him, plunge into the thick alpine spruce brush, and beat a path around the flood. We beats No, finale.

You know the rest of the story. Couchsechraga succumbed to our assault, including passage over and back through the famed bog in the col between her and Times Square. The other summits, Santanoni and Panther, subsequently became check-marks on our peak lists. We emerged nearly eleven hours later, wounded, abused, sore, caked with mud, our boots carrying enough water inside that we no longer cared what we stepped in, but immensely satisfied. Later examination of photos on various blogs compared to what we experienced only confirmed that we’d made this passage at absurd water levels of the type possibly only after Epic Rain.

But the Power of We overcame the Power of No. Depend on the motivation of your fellow runners and those around you to carry you through the tough points, in training, in races, in life. Give it back when you’ve got it and they need it.

Oh, one more thing: After this concluded, yes, of course I ran a few miles. Can’t let the streak die just because of some silly little Death March, can I?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome Gary, that sounds like one heck of a hike! I 'm going to check it off my "Living Vicariously Through The Experience Of Others” list, I’m completely satisfied with Couchsechraga at this point!\

    Bruce O.


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