The Middle Miles
Posted On: Wednesday, June 25, 2014
By Erik Schulte
I sat on the chalky pad in the gym at the base of the 20 foot wall in front of me. “This sucks! Are you sure this is only a V2?” I thought. It had been weeks since my last climb. Training for a 100 mile race takes up a lot of time, and thus I sat there struggling to make my way up this fake wall on what I was sure was not a V2. Years before my friends and I had decided to stop paying attention to the ratings and just enjoy the climbing, but like other parts of training the ratings still haunted me. So I continued to struggle, not making any real progress. What did it matter if I made it to the top of this route on the imitation rock? What does it matter if I run to the top of a mountain. In my own myopic world of training, and or personal goals it is everything, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. No one cares except maybe my Mom. The mountains don’t care, the trees don’t care, the bears certainly don’t care, and if I get to the top of whatever arbitrary place I’ve decided, and no one is there to see, what is the point? So I can take a selfie and post it on social media? The more “likes” the more real it is, right?
There is this amazing trail that goes to the top of Mt Wilson near my house. The trail is steep, but runnable and in seven miles you go from a desert landscape to beautiful pine tree covered ridges. After grunting up the steep trail, gaining 5,000 vertical feet past the bears and the squirrels and the wild terrain of the San Gabriel Mountains, you arrive on the majestic peak of Mt Wilson to a parking lot. Inevitably someone drives up in their luxury automobile and the stark contrast between our modes arriving at the destination become clear. One has a clean pressed shirt on, and the other is covered in sweat and dirt from miles of rocky trail. Being the later of the two, my view may be biased, but I would argue that the the dirt and sweat gathered from the mountainous terrain make all the difference in who we are at the moment we arrive at the top. The time spent with the rocks and the plants in the valleys and ridges are what cause the change in our bodies, not necessarily the arrival at the peak. Our muscles and minds learn from the miles in the middle between where we start and our eventual goal, and without these the top means little.
Sometimes it is difficult for me to remember that the “middle miles” are where the forging takes place. The magnitude of the summit overshadows the experience it might take to get there, and I become impatient. Then, there I am, struggling with plastic holds on a wall and assuring myself that someone wrote the wrong rating on this route, all the while being changed by the struggle itself whether it’s a V2 or not.