Total Miles: 436.8
en·dur·ance | in-ˈdu̇r-ən(t)s , -ˈdyu̇r-, en-
1 : the ability to withstand hardship or adversity
especially : the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity
In August of 1914, with the world peering into the void of what would become the First World War, a wooden ship unique among all but one set sail from Plymouth, England bound for Antarctica. Apart from its cousin ship, Fram, no other wooden ship had been built—or has been since—with such attention given to strength and the ability to withstand the crushing power of an Antarctic winter’s ice floes. It’s name? Endurance.
Having lost the race of South Pole discovery to the Norwegian Roald Amundsen three years earlier, Ernest Shackleton set sail with his crew of 27 intent on bringing home to England the prestige of being the first to cross the entirety of the world’s southernmost continent. What followed was not only an unmitigated disaster, but the greatest survival story in history.
Having been enamored with stories like John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a gripping account account of the 1996 tragedy that unfolded high on the slopes of Mount Everest, I thought I’d seen what real survival and heroism looked like. That was until I read Alfred Lansing’s account of what Shackleton and company were up against all alone at the bottom of the world over 100 years ago. Unfolding over the course of 4 years—yes, that’s not a typo—the entire crew would come to fully embody the spirit of the ship that had brought them there, surviving many times over what would have broken mere mortals. Withstanding multiple polar winters, malnutrition, losing their ship to the death grip up of Antarctic ice, crossing the world’s most violent body of water in something akin to a dinghy, and then finally navigating the length of an as yet uncharted island to reach safety, it is a model for both leadership and the strength of human will. And all of it happened without the loss of a single man. Now that’s endurance.
Thru-hiking is nothing like Shackleton’s expedition, but the same three syllables unite the two: en·dur·ance. That’s all this takes. Not the fight for your life kind of endurance, mind you, but the kind that forces you to ask how much of the heat, the cold, the fatigue, the pain you are willing to endure. The odyssey of the crew of the Endurance not only puts our meager suffering into perspective, but their ultimate success measured solely by their own survival makes me think that three other syllables might have been equally important: at·ti·tude.
Trail time is largely idle time, at least mentally, and in all of that empty space of thought it’s interesting to wonder what connects all of those who are ultimately successful in hiking long trails to their completion. Not skill, not age, not fitness, not experience. More than any other single commodity: attitude. And it’s the attitude that powers the endurance.
On such a short day into town, it’s funny to ponder something as big as endurance, and epic adventures like Shackleton’s, given that all that today required was to walk 9 measly miles over well-worn trail that many others before us had traveled. But sometimes those are the best days to restore some of the necessary perspective.
In what was perhaps the best spot to hang our hammocks thus far, we tucked ourselves into bed only to have a thunderhead appear overhead, sending us racing to pitch our tarps last night. The wind whipped through the stand of trees knocking pine cones from the treetops that banged onto the tarp above my head with a report that sounded like large stones of hail. Somewhere in the vicinity, other trees could be heard crashing to the ground leaving us thankful that we’d chosen such a healthy stand of trees for the night.
When morning came and we crossed a nearby stream before the final climb up and over a pass to the ski area at Copper Mountain, fresh blowdown was strewn across trail that had been clear a day before. Rising through and finally above the forest that we’d called home for the night, we startled a pair of marmots playing (mating?) outside their rock burrow. When we got within a few feet they stopped and paused to stare at us, like parents who’d just had their kids walk in on them.
The awkwardness passed and we all went our separate ways, they into the safety of the rocks and we to our destination in the valley below, wondering what Shackleton and crew might have felt had they known a bed, a shower, and a meal would be waiting for them, mere hours away.
Latitude/Longitude: 39.50141, -106.14524