Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Altitude and Attitude

Going from Farmerville, with an elevation of  171 feet, to here in Gunnison/Crested Butte, Colorado at 7,700 at our campground to 10,000 to 12,000 on our hikes, has gotten me thinking about shifting attitudes as well as altitudes.

It has certainly been a humbling experience to set out on a hike at 10,000 feet elevation and find ourselves winded with the least bit of uphill climbing. At home, Fred and I might consider ourselves somewhat fit. After all, we do our workouts at the gym and jog on the treadmill (though at a much slower pace than we once did). We harbor no real illusions about that routine, knowing that jogging on the roads, or hiking on trails offer their own challenges. Hiking at altitude just imposes one more factor to consider.

As we adjusted our expectations to the reality of the trails and the higher altitude, I found myself thinking a bit philosophically…….

This trip, we had set out with a much more relaxed attitude. We were here to enjoy the weather, the landscape, and each other’s company…….nothing more. Sure, there are times, whether in the gym or on a hike, that we enjoy really ‘pushing our limits’. It feels good…….really, it does… push ones self and to find that you really can do more than you think. There are times for that…….and there are other times. This part of our trip has been more focused on the journey, rather than the destination.

With each activity, we would ask (to help set the proper focus) “What are we here for?” And the answer was invariably “To enjoy ourselves and have a great hike!” The hikes that we had selected were all rated ‘5-6 stars’, meaning that the entire hike was filled with spectacular scenery. There was no end point, or destination that was going to be a  “Do not miss……awesome….amazing…..must see experience!”  And we did not have a set time frame that we just had to get the hike done by. We were free to enjoy the journey…….no need to ‘push to the summit’…..nothing to prove to ourselves….or to anyone else.

Rather than fret over the effect of the altitude, (I must say here, that we had acclimated enough that we were not headachy or nauseous, which can happen at first, and we did make a concerted effort to stay hydrated, which helps. The only real effect that we were dealing with was the increased effort and breathlessness whenever we exerted ourselves). So…rather than fret over this, we just slowed down…….and the slowing down had the added benefit of allowing us to really focus on the journey. More time to pause and take pictures, while catching our breath!

All of this also got me thinking about personal capabilities and limitations. All of us have things that we can do…..and thing that we can not do. Some, has to do with age (and no, age is not ‘just a number’). Some of our abilities have decreased with age as orthopedic limitations have increased. Some capabilities, or lack of, are individual. But whatever ones capabilities……the important thing is to know oneself and  to figure out how to do what it is that one wants to do.

Knowing oneself is difficult. What, exactly, are we capable of? Is it reality or fear that is holding us back? Am I able to climb that mountain? If I am, at what cost? Perhaps that goal is really out of my reach……..or, perhaps not? Objective self assessment is not easy……and a good argument for pushing ones limits occasionally.

The harder part of that equation is knowing what it is that one wants to do. What is it that will bring satisfaction? There are times when reaching the summit is the only thing that will satisfy. Other times, when a pleasantly spent stroll in a lovely setting feeds the soul. Just as there are times for adventure and there are times for the comfort of home and community.

I ask myself just what is it that I want? What will bring me the greater satisfaction? I try not to focus on what others are doing, or have done, but rather on what sort of activities I enjoy. What is it that brings purpose or meaning, spirituality, appreciation, or enjoyment to my life.

I try not to be pushed by the need to ‘keep up’ with others on the trail, but I don’t shy away from pushing myself if it seems appropriate (or necessary). Along the way, I ask myself “How am I right now?” If I am breathless….I stop a few moments to catch my breath. If not, I go on. I try not to let the fear of not being able to continue stop me.  And all along the way, I try to answer the question of “Are we having fun?” with an emphatic “YES!”

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