Perseverance – Weathering the Storm

Perseverance – Weathering the Storm

The Green River, Utah

The Green River, Utah

I recently returned from a six-day camping and canoeing trip near Canyonlands National Park in Utah.  We paddled downstream on the Green River, past soaring red rock buttes and camped in remote canyons.  

Now, I had done a fair amount of “roughing it” in my twenties and thirties but in recent years have enjoyed the kind of hiking trip that ends with a meal in a nice restaurant and a comfortable bed.  But when I heard about the trip that was being organized by a family group, I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I didn’t want to miss, even though I knew it might be challenging for me.

And I was right.  This trip made me confront many of my worst worries and fears: Discomfort – check! Steep rock-faces where you could fall to your death – check! Snakes – check!Wild animals – check! Being separated from my IPhone – check!!!

But the worst fear of all was my lack of confidence in my own ability to persevere.  Because I knew that once we set out on the river, there was no way to quit if it felt too hard.  There was literally no way out because there were no roads, no motor boats patrolling the river, no cell phone service.  (In a real emergency, someone could have hiked to the top of the canyon wall and gotten enough reception up there to call for help.)

View from Butch Cassidy's hideout

View from Butch Cassidy’s hideout

At the end of the third day, however, the weather began to turn.  One minute we were paddling in the pleasant sunshine and looking forward to finding a campsite for the night (hopefully just around the next bend); the next minute, we were fighting against the wind and trying to keep the canoes balanced in the choppy river.  We missed a campsite that was marked on our map and had to keep going as dusk began to fall.  There was lightning in the distance.  But, there was nothing to do but keep paddling, in spite of my fears,  my protesting shoulder muscles,  and the rain soaking my clothes.

Campfire Cooking

Campfire Cooking

The rain stopped, and we made it to the next canyon where we set up camp.  We sat on rocks hundreds of feet above the river and watched the sun set over the dramatic skyline of buttes in every direction.  That night there was a big storm.  Thunder reverberated, picking up decibels as it echoed through the surrounding rock faces, and lightning illuminated the sky.  The time between the crashes of thunder and the explosions of lightning got shorter and shorter.  The tent shook mightily in the wind. Water dripped into our sleeping bags and hail the size of golf balls littered the canyon.  Though rationally I knew we were ok, I felt like a terrified two-year old in the storm.

Anastazi Pictographs

Anastazi Pictographs

The next day, the sky cleared.  We managed to make a fire for coffee with the damp wood, and set our clothes and equipment on rocks to dry as we scrambled up rocky cliffs to find an ancient Anasazi pictograph site.   There were no tourists, no guides, no fences, and no plaques at this site.  Just a simple boulder that people – who had probably camped in the same canyon as we had, thousands of years ago – had chosen to decorate with graffiti.  The rewards of perseverance!

Back in Boston, I reflected on how seldom I really commit to doing something I’m scared of– with no option to quit! I resolved to build on my positive experience of perseverance to take on something else that’s challenging….like maybe recording those new songs I’ve written and putting them out there? (More about that soon!)

As Nikolas Kristof wrote in the New York Times recently:

Cairn

Cairn

 Perhaps wilderness is an antidote to our postindustrial self-absorption.  It’s a place to be deflated, humbled and awed all at once.  It’s a window into a world larger than ourselves, one that doesn’t respond to a remote.  It’s an Olympiad for all of us.  

 

How does perseverance (or lack of it!) show up in your life? How have you built your perseverance muscle? I’d be interested in your comments.

Canoes on the Green River

 

 

 

 

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