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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Learning My Lessons - Solo Fast 2012

When LB mentioned he was doing a “solo fast” last October, I thought he was nuts.  He was.  So was Dan-O.  While they each sat alone in the woods all weekend – doing nothing, and, more notably, eating nothing – I instead ran around the Three Sisters.  I’m not  sure who was more miserable.  But after hearing of their experiences, when It came time for the ’12 version, I gave it some thought.

The idea behind a solo fast – truly, sitting alone in a remote area of the wilderness, no work, no communication, no technology, no food, and – if you’re die-hard – no fire – is equal parts mediation and strength through deprivation.  I like both those things about running, so why not try it?  Moreover, unlike running, you can’t out-run your “issues”: if there’s something going on in your life, chances are good you’ll be mulling it over, given 40+ hours.  There’s nowhere to hide from yourself.
Long story short: LB, Dan-O and I drove from Eugene to the Diamond Peak Wilderness.  We hiked in a bit, found a trail junction, and we each took a compass vector and started walking.  “Have a good weekend!”



I hiked alone up the steepening grade, past two rocky outcroppings til I found one of my suiting.  I carried with only a tent, sleeping bag, pad, a few layers of clothes, and water.  OK, so I also had a couple luxury items: toothbrush and paste, lighter and handwarmers, and a pad and pen. 
I set up camp and had a nice view of the western ridges and the setting sun, the false peak of Diamond to my rear. 

I set up camp, and sat there.  And slept.  Walked around a bit.  Sat there.  Slept.  Laid there, not sleeping.  From 6PM on Friday night, until 9AM Sunday.
That’s all.  Just me, and my thoughts.

Here’s what came from it.  First the fun-facts:
-The 43.5 hours – from 3PM Friday until 1130AM Sunday – was the longest ever I’ve ever gone without food.  It was interesting…I never craved, but I felt depleted.  Like an ultra.

-The 38.5 hours that I was alone was, I believe,  the longest time I’ve ever gone without even seeing another human being.
-I did as close to nothing as possible: no running, no yoga, no core work, no stretching.  I ocassionally wrote in my journal, and when the constant cold finally wore me down, I caved and built a small fire. I went on two walks, totaling about 300m. 

-I drank maybe a liter of water the entire time.  With no food, and no exercise, I wasn’t thirsty.
-I went the entire day of Saturday without a single “deuce”!  Has such a thing ever happened?  Not sure.  :p

Wanna know what running the last few miles of a 100-mile trail ultra feels like?  Don’t eat for 42 hours, then run a half hour at altitude. 
Reflections from the Solo

Craig said a couple things about what might happen during a Solo:

1.)    If you’re running from something, you won’t be able to hide from it out there.

2.)    Whatever you “crave” when you’re out there is what you’re looking for in normal life.

3.)    Every time he’s done a long solo, something big has happened in his life.

Here’s what my experiences were:
“Alone and bored? This is way too comfortable.”  It didn’t take long for me to realize that what I was doing – alone in the woods, bored – is all too familiar to me.  And I didn’t like it.  It sucked.  What I “craved” the most were relationships.  And people.  I thought about a lot of different relationships – the “big ones”, family, and even the every day “little ones”.  Top to bottom, big and small, they all offer tremendous wealth to our lives.  I really do value them, and I need to put a lot more effort into cultivating those ties – however weighty or seemingly insignificant.  And it can be as easy as picking up a phone, stepping out the door, simply opening my mouth.

"Patience. Not everything has to change now. Or ever."  So I spent a lot of time with my back against “The Sittin’ Rock”, as I coined it, looking westward over the ridge and valleys of the Willamette Valley.  I bet I could see fifty miles.  But right in front of me was a small confiner tree.  Hardly a tree.  Simply a bush with two branches: one that grew straight up; and the other, which grew a few inches upward, before abruptly veering left…then, down…then back up again and farther left.  Unconsciously I stared at that bush.  I imagined having a handsaw and cutting off that offensive, absurb branch.  Over and over.  Hack-hack-hack.  Symmetrical perfection.
But when I finally looked closer, I saw that the straight branch – the perfect one – was half-stripped of bark. Broken. While the circuitous branch was robust. 

I’ve always been stubborn. I think I know how everything should be.  I also work in profession where it’s my job to change things to my liking.  The right way. 
But not everything  - or everyone – needs to change.  Everyone and thing has its own journey and lessons to learn. Constantly trying to change things to suit my worldview is exhausting for me and robs that entity the lesson they need to learn, that will ultimately allow them to grow.  Ultimate patience, then, is the ability to sit back as they experience that lesson, for them to live out that journey, and see how much better off they are. 

Perhaps that two-headed conifer would be dead if it weren’t for its bigger, stronger, circuitous half.  Perhaps he grew that way to avoid an otherwise deadly obstacle; a fate that it’s straighter brother seemingly did not avoid.
"Everything, good or bad, ends."  Friday night was OK. Saturday was OK.  Saturday night SUCKED.  It was so cold, that I slept from 7PM to 11AM, Friday to Saturday – it was too cold, sans fire, to want to get out of the tent.  Then, once out of the tent, there wasn’t much to do.  So I took a “cat-nap” from 4-6.  I watched the sunset before breaking down and building a small fire to lengthen my evening before the cold again forced me into the tent.  I was able to “sleep” until 1AM.  From then, it was fits of semi-consciousness – rolling around on my inch of air separating my hips and shoulders from lava rock, a nose that wouldn’t stay thawed, and absolutely no fatigue. 

I did the bulk of my real “thinking” during that time: when I could no longer escape…anything, even with sleep.  Maybe by sleeping all day, I was running from those thoughts.  Either way, I had plenty of time to mull them over in those sleepless, pre-dawn hours. 
I really feel like things – experiences, or relationships – are presented into our lives for us to learn lessons. And when we’ve learned those lessons, those things end, and it’s time to move on to the next experience.  People who fail to learn from mistakes aren’t doomed to repeat them – instead, they repeat the lesson until it’s learned. 

Perhaps 2.5 days was just long enough for me to learn from that weekend.  Whatever it was, I was quite miserable on Saturday night into Sunday morning, but if it weren’t for that time period, I’m not sure I would’ve fully grasped this lesson: all relationships end. Sometimes, but very infrequently, it’s from death. But most of them are not.  They might be amazing, or God-awful, but they exist for us to learn important lessons, and move forward. 
I used to believe that when a relationship ended, that I had failed. I no longer believe that (though I think I’ll continue to struggle with that belief).  I’ve learned an extraordinary amount about myself in the past two-plus years, and I’m a much better person for those lessons.  So how can I be bitter, or guilty, or regretful?  I grieve the loss of that thing – good or bad – and I embrace the new. And the new after that, and after that.

Sunday morning was good: I woke up early, took the sleeping bag outside and watched those same stars I’d seen appear twelve hours earlier, fade into the light.  Then I packed up my stuff and hiked down the hill. 
It’s remarkable to think about all the cool things I’ve learned from Craig Thornley.  This was yet another experience that I am thankful to him for introducing to me. But at least I’ve been able teach him one thing: how amazing a good beer is, be it after a run or at 1130AM on a Sunday morning!  Cheers!

By virtue of his 50-plus hours of fasting, Lord Balls takes the cerimonial first pull off the mountain air-chilled Oakshire Espresso Stout, breaking the fast.

2 comments:

  1. This idea looks really intriguing, as I've been really interested in fasting and meditation the last several months.

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  2. I dont know you Joe but, I check into your blog on occasion. I enjoy your forthright attitude and humour but, this post hit me over the head. I just spent a solo weekend in the gorge recently, sans fast and always realize how important this is from time to time. You and Craig have made me really excited to mix the fast part in. Nice post!

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