Balancing Act

Before every big project, race, or trip, my process is the same: organized chaos with an exaggerated focus on a few (seemingly pointless) details.

When I embarked on the Arizona Trail Race, I went back and forth in my head, over and over, as to whether or not I should bring a sleeping bag. I even wrote an iRunFar article about it. I ended up bringing the bag and was very happy I did.

In retrospect, I had made my mind up to carry it with me long before the time I started internally debating about it. Yet, despite having an initial gut feeling that I should bring it, I still put myself through all the mental gymnastics of considering the alternative. And, here I am writing about it again!

By the time you read this, I will be part way through the Tour de 14ers, a solo, self-supported, and self-powered link-up of all the Colorado 14ers by bike and on foot.

I am writing this a few days before leaving and there seems to be a lot more chaos than organization in my preparation than there should be at this point.

The sleeping bag is not debatable. It is coming. But, what about a stove? Coffee? A sleeping pad? Yes, all seemingly trivial details, but they each take up an incredible amount of mental real estate, distracting me from much more important considerations such as studying the more complicated technical routes that I will encounter on the trip.

In that regard, spending half my time thinking about coffee is a hindrance to proper preparation–which reminds me, I should brew another cup.

These organizational woes are not completely my fault though, as inevitably things rarely go according to plan.

For instance, Culebra, the southernmost peak in Colorado, is on private property and requires a permit to be climbed. After literally months of trying to get in touch with the person who issues the permits, I received a one-line email stating that no permits would be issued for August when I intended to climb the peak. The latest possible date for an ascent would be July 30th. Since Culebra is so far south from my home, it only made sense to climb a number of peaks on the way down, which dictated my start date to July 26, a mere 10 days after Hardrock–not ideal.

Adding to the need to recover, make final preparations, and other work commitments, my family is visiting from France during this time. Now, this is not a complaint, far from it actually, rather it is an observation as to how difficult it can be to properly balance all of the important details that make up our lives while being pulled in so many different ways by meaningless mental clutter.

I want to spend time with my family, my wife, and actually be present and engaged, not distracted and rushed. I want to do my work well, and I want to prepare as best as I can for this project, because I really do care. Yet, despite knowing this, it is still hard to quiet the chatter and zero in on what really matters.

Interestingly, the very idea of doing the Tour de 14ers is inspired by an ideal of simplicity, of uncomplicated travel, an opportunity to sync with the natural rhythm of the world rather than the fast, overwhelming pace of modern society. While it might seem contradictory to leave on a long, solo adventure when writing about the challenge of being not being fully engaged with those around me, I see this as an opportunity for quiet reflection, a way to attune to my environment and my emotions, and gain perspective on how to be a more balanced and ultimately better human being.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Does what Joe describes as trivial mental clutter distract you from life’s most important tasks?
  • What do you do to quiet your mind and let what’s important filter through those distractions? Is it intentional focus, moving meditation, or maybe something else?

Balancing Act

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 3 comments

  1. Nick Truax

    Thanks Joe and irunfar! I’ve been following this adventure via the gram and it has been quite the story thus far. Keep up the good fight Joe!

    To give thought and pause to Meghan’s prompts:

    Yes, the minutia (“trivial mental clutter”) does weigh, but not completely down. It is part of the whole and to be considered IMO. Some of us focus more on it than others is my take. I sometimes get deep with it when entering the unknown as it gives me focus on something that is more known – e.g. sleeping bag vs no sleeping bag; I know the reality of having it vs not. We often know the answer but the debate is no less relevant when putting pieces together for a much larger whole. Multi-day backcountry trips that cover ground (technical or not) often put me to the test in ways in which Joe describes and it is likely to be expected to nitpick. I believe the little things all add up and are very reasonable to be considered when tackling a new unknown.

    “Damn, you always treat me like a mountain, stranger”. -Kristian Matsson

  2. Frederic

    “Interestingly, the very idea of doing the Tour de 14ers is inspired by an ideal of simplicity, of uncomplicated travel, an opportunity to sync with the natural rhythm of the world rather than the fast, overwhelming pace of modern society. ”

    I find this line very well put as I have been (and will be again!) in the same situation myself a lot of times : the basic idea being supposed to represent simplicity, complexity quickly creeps in.
    Good luck, I look forward to seeing your final adventure report.

  3. Angela

    This adventure, Joe, is one of those life-changing types. It’s not just life-changing for you, but also the people who are watching, who may never meet you in person. Thank you for sharing it! And, yes, life, it’s still happening, even through these epic moments. So, one could see how your mind may be moving from one place to another. I hope some clarity is shining through on the moments you need it most. Good luck to you!!

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