As I currently sit here on a cushy leather couch, sipping hot black coffee, and looking out the window over the lush gardens of a beautiful Seattle home, I am reminded that the rising sun is warming the outdoor world. That world included me only a week ago. The morning warmth from those first rays of sunshine are magical after a cold night. We have been graciously hosted here in Seattle for the last week (Thanks Sweetums! She thru-hiked in 2015) and it has been quite a relaxing vacation from the norm. Our last ten days on trail were eventful, challenging, partially frigid and soggy, but also sunny, warm, and gorgeous for the final days. We were given a fresh opportunity to experience nearly every feeling and emotion that we had already experienced on this journey again. Trash levels were low, likely because less people use those far northern trails, and the mountains were awe-inspiring. In the end, we removed 721.7 pounds of litter from the PCT over a span of 2,659 miles.
We encouraged and inspired countless individuals to hold themselves to a higher stewardship ethic, many whom don't even reside in the US. In my mind, that is the greatest success. These people don't live here so why should they care? It is not their soils, their forests, nor their country, yet they care more for it than many Americans simply because it provides the space for their experience. Thank you to all the folks we met this year, from America and from all over the world, who took even one moment to make this trail a better place. Thanks for picking up even one single piece of litter that wasn't yours. You are the real heroes of the world. Please continue to leave it better, everywhere you go.
Now we will get into the main purpose of this article - Grit.
What is grit? It depends on who you ask, personally I would say grit is the sand and dirt in my dinner for the last five months, also known as trail spice. Although I also agree with the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition that follows:
Grit = firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger
To elaborate on grit a bit, grit is when the going gets tough and circumstances are no longer ideal for carrying out your goal. When everything hurts, the weather is cold and rainy, and you have no motivation to carry on. When every bit of you has given up, but you keep going anyway. Physically, your body has given up and quit. Mentally, your mind has betrayed you and become your biggest naysayer. Emotionally, you have no new emotions to experience, you've already felt them all. Nothing seems to have any novelty or excitement anymore, but through sheer grit you carry on.
Grit is mental strength. Grit is the willpower to accomplish our goals no matter how uncomfortable, unpleasant, or challenging the task becomes. Displaying grit is not pleasant, it is the grind that gets us through our greatest challenges. Grit is what you have left when you have nothing else remaining. It is the ability to get up and hike another marathon, sometimes in the cold rain and hail, knowing it will not be the last. After 140 days of hiking between 20 and 41 miles per day, you know there are more miles ahead and you will do the same thing again tomorrow. Grit is accepting that at the end of today, you will be so exhausted that the person you are will die when you go to sleep. From the shell of yesterday's body will rise a new beast, one that will carry on once more.
The foundations of form, strength, and efficiency have brought us this far, and grit is the culmination of all our prior success. These previous foundations become the basis of all we do when we reach this stage of grit. Our minds, under stress, handle simple tasks far better than complex ideas. To sink our minds into these three prior foundations gives us a method to keep ourselves healthily moving forward on the path toward our goal. In our case the goal was finishing the PCT. We have now accomplished that, but there will be a new goal. One that will again become challenging to complete. A goal that will require full dedication, form and strength, efficiency and grit, and ultimately we will succeed if we believe in it enough.
Finding passion in nuance, rather than novelty is imperative to maintaining the grit necessary to accomplish a long-term goal. This concept of finding passion and perseverence in nuance, rather than novelty comes from psychologist and writer Angela Duckworth. Every new task is a novel experience and therefore easy to be excited and have passion about. Over time that task will become mundane, just like every other thing we do with repetition. The key to keeping the passion to complete the goal is to find new ways to be excited. Learn the nuances of how you can change the task. In our case we tried running 35 - 41 mile days, tried going ultralight, tried carrying heavy packs with tons of warm layers and food, and have tried new tents, new packs, and new ways of packing just to experience the nuances of backpacking and keep things interesting. We walked all day in cold and rain, hail and lightning storms, sometimes we walked all night, we have even gone to sleep to the sound of snow piling up on our tents. We have experienced a full range of weather and prepared ourselves for each climate - desert, high alpine, and temperate rainforest. The variety of climates and seasons on this journey allowed us an opportunity to learn the nuances of being skilled travellers in those environs. Those opportunities helped us to learn and grow continuously, avoiding the pitfall of becoming 'bored' with the trip.
Some days were more challenging than others, on those days a few phrases flowed repeatedly through my mind:
(Talking to my higher power about my feet): "If you keep pickin' 'em up, I'll keep puttin' 'em down."
"Every step is a miracle."
It all comes down to digging deep and staying positive in order to accomplish your goal. Sometimes you have to ask yourself, "Why not try?" and see what the outcome will be. Try new ways of doing old things, keep it fresh. When novelty wears off, change up the routine and learn new nuances. Not only does the task become more engaging, but you will learn more and progress toward becoming an expert in that field. When you get tired of the work, 'bored' with the tedium, remind yourself of the importance that the end-outcome once held for you and steel yourself with grit. Reinvigorate yourself with fresh new methods and focus yourself on the things that helped you get this far. Strive to perfect your form, maintain your strengths, excel in efficiency, and continue to push yourself toward your goal. A quote from Nelson Mandela comes to mind, "It always seems impossible until it is done."
Dig deep, stay positive. - Paul ‘Spice’ Twedt