Saturday, May 4, 2013

From My Journal: Going Up You Get Tired, Coming Down You Get Hurt

I don’t know how many inexperienced hikers I’ve told that old adage to. Back in the flat Midwest it’s not something one says much, but here in the Rockies it is advice well heeded.

On top of Mt. Bierstadt, our first fourteener 
(and only so far)
Going up you get tired. Many trailheads, in fact most here, seem to start at the bottom of a long incline. Before I became more accustomed to the altitude, I wouldn’t be a quarter mile in and I needed to stop to catch breath, filled with the wondering of whether I was going to be able to enjoy this hike after all. But I found even then that I would finally hit a steady rhythm, "pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down" one foot ahead of the other, and the steady pace, even if modest, gave progress.

Goin' up...
But going up you get tired. You long for the summit, or at least time or trail’s apex, because the ascent is wearing you out. Going up has gotten all of your attention, especially if you are a novice. It’s up and to the right that is the order of the day. Maybe all the while you know you have a final scramble ahead of you, following cairns, picking or pulling your way through boulders. Your heart is pumping wildly, your lungs ache, you’ve perspired to the point of dripping, and you long for the time you can descend. You even hear your inner monologue: “Oh, going down will be so great,” you say, “all of the beauty and none of the pain, objective accomplished!”

You forget (or don’t know) that coming down is the more likely time when you can get hurt. It’s a bit counterintuitive. With the strain of the ascent one is lulled into thinking the descent can’t be much, nothing but a piece of cake. But physical exertion has already been exacting and one may not realize how tired they already are. Muscles have been taxed, and sometimes that shaky feeling of adrenalin deprivation has even set in.
'Tis the art of the skillful
descent that should require
as great an attentiveness...

Comin' down...
So coming down is usually when you get hurt. Your foot slips. Your hand fails to grip a hold. Think of it: mechanically, going up is actually much easier than coming down. On the way up your body leans into the angle’s pitch, it hugs the trail, the path almost welcoming the next footfall. Going down, the center of gravity has been reversed with centrifugal rather than centripetal force being exerted. The body now leans away from the angle’s pitch, away from the trail, and every single step is a lurch forward into space, into nothingness, into unwelcomeness. You discover that both the ascent and descent can be painful, though with different kinds of pain. Going up it’s the exhaustion of exertion, lung pain. Coming down it’s the checking of momentum, the jarring of knees and hips, and even the occasional fall or injury.

'Tis the art of the skillful descent that should require as great an attentiveness.

So in life. We long for the pinnacle, then for the chance to be done with the hard pulling and enjoy the downhill coast. But coming down from a height to a place of normalcy is where I can fail, or fall, where I need to humble myself, remove myself from my exalted position. Yes, the skillful descent requires a retiring grace.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face (see Exodus 34:29-35) so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor... And we all, with unveiled face reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another... (2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 18)
                                       ~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry,
Adapted for Blog May 3, 2013

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