There are places in this world so breathtaking that when you see them for the first time you almost expect them to be guarded by an angel with a flaming sword. You almost feel guilty for dirtying them with your eyes. One such place exists about 100 miles east of Boise, Idaho, 75 miles from any paved road, 20 miles from any dirt road, and 10,700 feet above the sea.
It was at this spot where three weary travellers gathered around a campfire to rest from their journey on the evening of Labor Day, 2009, and one of them thought to ask the other two, "What's the hardest thing you've ever done in your life?" "This!" was the unanimous reply. I nodded in agreement. Orion went so far as to say that the past three days made boot camp seem like a day at the beach. We pondered that silently for a moment, and then Matt and I began talking about the things we take for granted, and how this experience will change our lives once we get back to civilization. But then Orion spoke up and reminded us that we are weak, frail, sinful human beings. We may appreciate what we have for a short time, but in a couple of weeks we'll be back to our normal sense of entitlement and thanklessness. It is with this in mind, seven months later, that I've sought to remind myself what I felt on that mountain and see if it still holds true. So here are the TEN THINGS I LEARNED FROM CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN:
1. I learned the meaning of the word "hungry."
There have only been a small handful of times in my life where I really got a sense of what true hunger is. And having never missed a meal in my life due to lack of provision (sickness or choice, only), I'm still far from knowing what many people in the world know about true hunger. But it's good to get a taste of it once in a while and at least have a sense of what's it's like to want to kill someone for a meal or boil your own baby for supper. Again, dreaming about cheeseburgers is far from killing someone for them, but at least it's a small taste of what it's like to reach that point.
After eating nothing but trail mix and fiber bars for a week (and a couple of trout on one particularly good day), and emerging back at the trailhead ten pounds lighter, there was only one thing on our minds: Cheeseburgers! Cheeseburgers! Cheeseburgers! We got in our car and started back where we had come from, not realizing that it would be two and a half hours before we reached a paved road again. When we finally emerged onto pavement we were ready to hit the first place we saw that had the scent of dead cow.
At a time like this, we would have settled for a McDonald's or even a Jack-in-the-Box. That would have been very satisfactory. We were not expecting the first place we came across to be a restaurant that had been featured on the Food Network as having one of the greatest cheeseburgers in the world, but it was, and they did. About twenty miles outside of Boise there's a place called the Kodiak Grill. Make a point of stopping there if you're ever within a 200 mile radius, especially if you haven't eaten beef for a week. If I've ever tasted a better meal in my life, I can't remember it.
Everybody should taste a meal like this at some point in their life. To be able to pour yourself out for something, see the desired result achieved, and then gather around a table to give thanks with more sincerity than you ever have for any meal in your life, is one of those moments that redefines joy.
2. I learned that you don't take a trip, a trip takes you.*
By now I should know that the failures and successes of all my trips are subject to the approval of he who rules the lives of both mice and men. Plans usually get thrown out the window on trips like these, and the earlier the better. You start out on a trip thinking that you are in control, only to find out that the Trip has its own plans and they will include you if the Trip is in a good mood. The Trip decides where you will go, when you will get there, what it will cost you, where it will hurt you, and what you will learn. Respect the Trip and the Trip will respect you.
3. I learned that the greatest pleasures in life are those which are harvested in the garden of pain.
There we were, three suburbanites from Minnesota, out of our element, unprepared for what we had just done, and we were standing at the top of a mountain in Idaho and wondering how we had gotten there. This is one of those species of joy that only grows in the garden of pain. We had just climbed a living metaphor. I fell to my knees and realized how few moments there are in life when you feel this good and this bad at the same time.
4. I learned that the way men build relationships is not face-to-face, but shoulder-to-shoulder.**
Go have coffee with someone every week for a year and you'll have a nice acquaintance you can laugh with and talk about your feelings. That's great if you're a woman. Climb a mountain with someone and you'll have a friend for life. There's a bond created by linking arms with other men for a common goal, depending on them and being depended on, picking each other up when you fall, and pushing each other on to victory that separates friendships from common acquaintances.
5. I learned what a cathole is.
And that's all you need to know about that.
6. I learned to be amazed at what I can do when I don't have a choice.
Being three days from civilization in every direction leaves you with little choice as to whether or not you can keep going. Had someone told me what I would be facing three days prior and given me a choice I would have said "No thank you, I'll spend my vacation here at the Holiday Inn ordering pizza and sitting by the pool." But that brings me to number 7...
7. I learned that I'm much better off not knowing what's ahead.
Spend two hours mustering up every ounce of strength you have to get to the top of a peak, hoping and praying that it is the last peak because you have nothing left to give, only to get to the top and see an even bigger peak behind that one, and the only thing you will be thankful for is that you didn't know it was there two hours ago. Another living metaphor for how "God doesn't give us the ticket until we get to the train station."
None of us had any idea how hard it was going to be when we set out on this adventure. And if we had, we all agreed, we never would have gone. Or at least we would have gotten in better shape first. We planned on getting to our destination in one day. It took three. Maybe the three worst and the three best days of our lives.
"Nobody ever learned the greatest lessons of their lives on the sunny days." ~Piper
9. I learned that those who complain the most contribute the least.
The older I get, the clearer this becomes to me. This has more to do with what I observed in my two friends than anything I learned in myself, since they had wives waiting for them back home. Over the course of our trip, I found it odd that when they spoke of their wives it was never in a complaining tone, but only with the utmost respect, and they both have two of the happiest marriages I know. Perhaps they don't have time to complain about their wives because they are too busy working to keep their marriages happy and healthy. Time and time again, when I observe other people's marriages it becomes obvious that those who complain the most about their marriages are those who contribute the least. I have seen no exception to this rule. Could this rule be extended beyond marriage to every other part of life? Work? Friendships? Health? Everything except weather probably. Or maybe that too.
10. I learned that you can learn something more than once.
As I was coming up with this list, I realized that these were not new things to me, but things I had previously forgotten and needed to relearn. Such is the misery of the human condition. From this I can only conclude that the Sawtooths will not be the last mountains I seek to conquer. Orion was right. I will forget. I will go back to my old ways of thanklessness and need to be refreshed by new glimpses of the glory of God. I look forward to not knowing what lies ahead.
**(#4) I heard this phrase from John Piper while I was still discovering the concept.