And most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences—things altogether of the mind.
I wasn’t thinking about that quote as I folded over and retched out the contents of my roiling stomach but I probably should have been. I had rolled out of the tent at 4 that morning after a slow, foggy and carsick drive to the Wallowas. We had left camp early, trying to make the summit by sunrise. Unfortunately the instant oatmeal I had for breakfast didn’t sit well. Finally just before dawn my aching belly had taken enough. I staggered to the edge of the trail and puked, over and over again.
When I straightened back up I couldn't help laughing. Here I was, in the middle of a beautiful nowhere, breathing clean air and watching the sun rise in the mountains. My life in that moment was perfect. All my stress was gone, washed away with the oatmeal. Maybe it is a little crude to say that throwing up was cathartic but in the moment I felt redeemed through suffering. All the cares of work and school were gone, all of my stress and doubt and frustration had been erased by weakness. In that moment life was clear with all its goals and rewards. I needed to go to the top. I needed to push further up and further in.
Of course we live in an imperfect world so this newfound Nirvana through vomit didn't last long. Soon enough I was doubled over again at an even more scenic turn. As I spewed the precious water I had hauled all this way my hiking partner looked on and took pictures, chronicling my sickness for future generations. Finally my stomach settled down and I completed the hike. After the mayhem that oatmeal wreaked on my digestive system the less than pure lake water had no effect. We made it to the lake for a brief moment of sunshine and I was content.
It wasn’t until later, when I arrived home that I realized how alive I had felt, how real that moment was. Sometimes we spend our days in a kind of comfortable misery. We are never truly happy or content but nothing ever hurts us enough to goad us into action. We stew on, frustrated and tired of our lives but never reaching that final summit where our frustration peaks and forces us to change our situation.
People like to talk about how the mountains give them peace or freedom or a sense of awe. That’s all great and I love all of those things but I think I really love the mountains because they hurt me. They wake me up, they kick my butt and remind me that I am alive. Sometimes it takes a challenge to our comfort, to our life to make us realize what we really have. Sometimes we need adversity to remind us that there is a Goal worth fighting for, worth living and dying for.
On an empty trail in the Wallowas I puked out my guts and was given the precious gift of Purpose.