I’m sitting here on my day off, staring at the computer screen, recklessly picking the skin off my cuticles at the sheer nervousness I feel about relaxing and writing a simple article about rest. Sure, spending 15 hours clinging to the side of a mountain with no food or water is dangerous and perhaps more than a little unwise, but, if you’re type-A and goal driven like me, there’s something comforting about repetitive motion towards a singular objective. The ragged in and out of my breath at altitude and the familiar burn of my legs as I ascend huge, granite steps give me a source of focus. As long as I’m moving forward, I can’t worry about my car payment or if my boss hates me or if the last piece I wrote is any good. I inhale, I sink my body into the dirt, and I push.
On a sunny Saturday in April, I found myself bumming around the Alabama Hills, just outside Mt. Whitney, head full of malice and belly full of Gatorade. I had a splitting headache and my heart was mired in a puddle of anxiety. Running on 4 hours of sleep, I got it into my head that physical exertion was a phenomenal idea. I slowly traversed each boulder with the grace of a bag of onions, sliding down the majority of the rocks butt-first, instead of searching for footholds like any sensible climber. It was embarrassing.
To top it all off, I frenetically kept apologizing to my partner for moving at a sloth’s pace and ruining the day and wanting to climb but not wanting to climb but maybe wanting to just not climb big stuff. When my mood shifted from nervous to nauseous, Ben stopped me in my tracks and suggested a nap in the shade. Now, I’m famous for hating naps, but I relented, wandering under a boulder with my sleeping pad and leaning against his thigh, staring blankly at a large shrub.
I let him run his fingers through my greasy hair as he spoke to me about family, his sister’s new baby, and his father’s messy garage. Closing my eyes, I giggled as the sounds of puppies fighting and the aroma of other dirtbags lighting up slithered through the air. I sunk into the simplicity of it all; the cool gravity of honest friendship, my utter lack of rest, and the faint beginnings of a sunset across the Owens Valley. 45 minutes later, I felt like a new human.
I find it simultaneously frustrating and hilarious that, at the age of 30, I haven’t yet learned how to listen to my body when it needs rest. I literally have to schedule days off for myself in which I take a Epsom salt bath, write, or finally watch a movie I’ve been dying to see – even my days off are full of purpose and planning! Lying inside a rock cave, blissfully staring across the sand towards the Inyo Mountains was a much-needed respite from my usual 9-5 grind and 6 day a week training routine. I got 8 hours of sleep for the first time in months, nodding off as the stars began their slow climb through the dark.
Sunday endeavored to teach me about an altogether different kind of rest. Ascending a ridge near Keynot Peak, I hit nothing but arduous, steep slopes of loose scree. These sharp pebbles threatened to push me backward and down the mountain, a sensation not unlike roller skating uphill. I was miserable. But, I was also bright eyed from Saturday’s snooze fest, leaving my mind clear and fixed on the target.
Terrain worsened as the peak’s grade stepped up for the last 2,000 feet of the ascent. I gave in to the fact that I could no longer stand and stuck my hands deep into the rocky earth. Clawing at the ground on all fours and dodging cacti, I went full animal, methodically traversing the slope with clenched teeth and willful determination. I made a point to break for water and to catch my breath each time a shrub or tree blocked my path, creating a narrow barrier between my body and the unstable ground.
At the summit, I felt grateful, accomplished, and entirely aware of just how ridiculous it was to crawl up an 11,000 foot mountain on hands and knees for 9 hours. The careful incorporation of breaks, meditation, and the prior-day’s rest kept my spirits high on what was my most difficult summit to date.
The mountain masochist in me might not be an expert on relaxation just yet, but I am beginning to tug at the yarn that unravels the equation for how recovery fits into an active life. It is possible to be achieving while resting. I’ve seen that. Now, I just need to believe it.