Two thousand, five hundred and twenty-nine.
That’s exactly how many days “Summiting a Fourteener” was on my life list before I stopped making bullshit excuses and FINALLY marked it off. Climbing a 14,000-foot mountain was No. 15 on the first life list that I ever created in 2008, and it had been on every life list since. (That’s a total of four life lists if you’re keeping track of how pathetic it is.)
For almost 7 years, I made up one reason after another why it wasn’t the right time to mark this lofty task off my list. (I won’t bore you with all the excuses, but they were ludicrous – especially since I fly for free and I have family in Colorado.)
If it’s not completely obvious…I’m beyond embarrassed to admit this out loud. I was constantly encouraging people – practically preaching to them – to stop saying, “I’ll do it tomorrow” and pull the trigger on their goals, dreams and aspirations.
The whole time, I had my thumb inserted into my hypocritical butt.
I was talking the talk, but I definitely wasn’t walking the walk.
I was just another jerk who ignorantly believed that there would be a tomorrow. I was being a naïve fool who assumed there would be another summer to accomplish this goal.
So. Embarrassing. (Not to mention tragic.)
When I created my most recent life list – 55 new things that I wanted to accomplish over the next 555 days – I put “Summit a Fourteener” on there AGAIN. It was No. 16 this time around.
Around this same time, I was getting ready to teach my Live the List continuing education classes (another life list item). One of the discussion items that I had planned for the class revolved around taking action.
The question: “What makes us finally say ‘Screw it…I’m going to pull the trigger and do it?’ No. More. Excuses.“
No one – including myself – had a solid answer. The discussion was generic at best.
Then I tweaked the question just a little and asked my students: “Instead of trying to figure out what motivates us to finally take action….what keeps us from pulling the trigger in the first place? What keeps us from going for it?”
And just for the record…”it” could be anything. It could be learning to sew, telling that special someone that you love them OR climbing a 14,000-foot mountain.
Once I framed the question like this, the discussion took off.
A lot of the answers revolved around time, money and fear, but the answer that intrigued me the most had to do with the metaphorical “hamster wheel” of life.
One of my students said: “The hamster wheel is easy. You know what to expect. There are no surprises. If you get off the hamster wheel and do something out of the ordinary, there is a possibility it could throw off your whole week.”
I asked for an example.
“A friend asked me to go out to dinner the other night, and I said no. It had nothing to do with prior obligations or the fact I didn’t want to see my friend. It had everything to do with how it was going to impact the next day and possibly the day after that.
“I knew I’d get to bed late, and I’d be tired the whole next day. I knew I wouldn’t want to get up and go the gym, so I’d have to go after work – if I went at all. If I did talk myself into going to the gym after work, I’d miss my favorite TV show. I thought about just recording it and watching it later, but that would mean going to bed late two nights in a row and….”
She abruptly stopped her example and said: “It’s just easier to do the same ol’ same ol’.”
Some people in the class tucked their lips and gave her a “you’re absolutely right” nod. Others stared blankly at the desk in front of them, a little embarrassed because she had just described them.
I chose to tuck my lips and nod. She had nailed it.
That night, I went home and made my plane reservation to Colorado.
“If this really is important to you, you’ll stop making excuses and do it,” I whispered to myself.
– – –
We left Denver at 5 a.m. and drove towards the dark purple mountains on the horizon. My cousin, a Colorado native, had agreed to climb a 14,000-foot peak with me and help me mark No. 16 off my Live the List. He had done his first and only fourteener with his wife the summer before. Compared to this Texas boy, he was an expert.
As we parked the truck and entered the trailhead, both peaks loomed in the distance. I wasn’t intimated, though. Yes, they were impressive, but not bullying.
I was a little naïve.
As we got closer and closer to the base of the mountain – after a 1.5-mile hike through a scenic valley – I could start to see people slowly working their way up the side of the mountain. They looked like lethargic carpenter ants, working back and forth across the grade.
The higher I gazed up the rocky slope, the smaller the people looked and the slower they were moving. I kept thinking to myself: “I’m about to be up there!”
Now, I was officially intimated, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
At one point of the climb, I started counting my steps and then stopping to catch my breath and allow my legs to stop screaming. My cousin’s wife said I would have to do this, but I thought she was messing with me.
At first, I’d take 75 steps and stop for 10 or 15 seconds.
Then, I’d take 60 steps at a time and then rest for 20 seconds.
As I approached the second summit, I was only taking 30 steps before stopping for 30 seconds. The incline was steep, the air was thin and my legs felt like grape jelly. I was being slow and intentional moving up this rocky incline.
Confession: I didn’t have a choice. If I wanted to accomplish this goal, I was going to do it 30 steps at a time.
A lot of people have asked me: “Was it hard?”
I’m always quick to say “yes,” but I also say, “It was never undoable.” I told one friend: “I never thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this.’ ”
There was one instance when I slightly questioned what I was doing, but that self-doubt was short-lived. It was after we bagged our first peak, Grays, and I convinced my cousin to tackle Torreys Peak as well.
As we descended from the top of Grays and onto the saddleback that connected the two peaks, that’s when I whispered to myself: “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.” The wind was blowing hard. It was cold. My legs were fatigued.
But then I said out loud: “Keep going!”
I’m so glad that I did.
Torreys Peak was perfect. The wind had subsided. The sun had warmed up the cool air. The view was indescribable. But it was the sense of accomplishment that was so satisfying. There were a lot of people on that mountain with us, but there were millions that wouldn’t even have attempted what we just did.
Standing on top of that 14,274-foot mountain, I felt alive. I felt bullet-proof. I felt like I could accomplish anything in the world.
When I did my hut-to-hut bike ride in Colorado a few years before, I wrote this narrative: “I was pushing my body harder and longer than I ever thought possible; I was in the middle of some of the most beautiful country in the world, and I didn’t know what was going to be thrown at me next – a true adventure!”
That is exactly how I felt on top of that mountain.
– – –
On the descent, my mind was going 100 mph. I kept asking myself: “Why did I wait so long to do this? Why did I keep putting this off? Why did I keep saying ‘I’ll do it tomorrow?’ ”
I didn’t have a solid answer.
Then I thought about all the other tasks that have cemented themselves on my life lists – never getting marked off for one reason or another.
- Take a martial arts class
- Zip line
- Get a tattoo
- Visit the Grand Canyon
Then I whispered that defining phrase that finally made me pull the trigger on my 14,000-foot adventure. “If these things are really important to you, you’ll stop making excuses and do them!”
When we got back to the trailhead – sore and battered, but feeling euphoric – there was only one more question looming: “Which one of these tasks is next?!?!?”