I take pleasure in discomfort. It’s a masochistic game that drives me to grind the chain ring a little further, glide the skin track a little longer or scramble the trail a little steeper. More often than not, this works in favor of many outdoorswoman or man on the pursuit of fresh air or first ascents.
For some, it’s a natural gift that comes easily. For others, like myself, it’s a learned technique that has developed through the perks and perils of playing outside. But whatever the struggle, it inevitably boils down to a single, tried-and-true cliché: mind over matter. With enough mental strength, your mind will adapt to – and even thrive on – the challenges that stand in your way.
I first discovered this new talent just over three years ago, when a traumatic brain injury from a horseback-riding excursion rendered me useless for nearly two months. Small triumphs, like taking a shower every three days or eating a days’ meal consisting solely of six saltine crackers and half bottle of vanilla-flavored Ensure, were big reasons to celebrate. Though my movements were wrought with pain, it all got a little easier each day, and minor progress was met with exuberant – if not relentless – high-fives and fist pumps.
This summer, I’ve confronted discomfort with a new series of challenges as I continue to embark on a solo road trip. It’s come in various mental and physical forms: camping within feet of mating mountain lions; derailleur issues and ensuing hike-a-bikes in the midst of a trail ride; poison oak and giardia acquired in a single day. Most recently, another sidelining injury – a ménage à trois involving my elbow, a bike trail and ineffective antibiotics – brought on another lesson in discomfort.
Unable to bike, hike, climb or swim, I was forced outside of my normally active comfort zone and struggled to accept my new (albeit temporary) fate that involved a lot of couch time at my dad’s house. So I did what I normally do when I’m faced with discomfort: I began to embrace it and watched as my world began to change.
I reveled in small victories, like chipping away at entire containers of mint chocolate chip ice cream on my own. (High five!) Or devouring generously sharable bags of kettle chips in one sitting. (Fist pump!) Or indulging in hours of mindless reality television shows and movies I’m too embarrassed to mention. (Knuckle bump!) It was a struggle to change my habits, but with enough determination, I was able to expand my comfort zone – not to mention my waistline. At the end of one month, I finally fell into a pleasurable routine and learned to love the apathetic progress I had made.
And then the doctor cleared me to ride.
The pain and suffering of pedaling my bike struck with a vengeance. A month’s worth of sloth-ism wrecked havoc on four months of training and endurance, leaving me gasping for breath on the easiest and smoothest trail in Bend, Oregon. Once again, I called upon my mental strength to pedal a little further and burn the lungs a little longer, knowing that every small discomfort was contributing to the larger goal of regaining my strength and sanity.
As I write this, I’m still trying to settle back into my on-the-go routine and challenging the things that make me uncomfortable. And given enough time and caloric energy, my snug bike shorts will no longer cause pain and suffering around my waist.
Stephanie has fled Park City for an indefinite period of time, and is traveling the west on her own terms. -Ed