Friday, March 22, 2013

Fear

Last night I dreamed that I was on board the icebreaker ship steaming toward Antarctica for this year's Antarctica Marathon. Our friends John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield are aboard--but in my dream I was talking to someone I didn't know. I was telling her that I was frightened -- not that I would get hurt, and not that I would die or anything like that. I was frightened that I wasn't prepared -- didn't have the right gear. I mean, I imagine one would wear snow-shoeing sorts of clothes... warm, but not so warm that you'd get too hot when exerting yourself. But then again I have seen pictures of the Shackleton expedition -- and even when they were pulling the sleds, they were pretty warmly dressed.
But more importantly, I was afraid I wouldn't have the strength to finish. I'm not even talking about physical strength here -- I'm talking about mental strength.... that is, that I wouldn't be strong enough to SUCK IT UP and keep going through the cold, the discomfort, the unhappiness.
This troubles me greatly. I mean, I'd like to think that I'm strong enough to get through things. After all, I am proud to know that I know I can get through a half marathon, pretty much no matter what. Torrential rain? Been there. Borderline hypothermia? Check. Crazy wind gusts? Done that, too. I've walked through an injury just to finish. I've sniveled my way through a race that I only finished because a) it was in a new state and b) my hotel was next to the finish line and I didn't know how else to get there if I didn't just finish the damn race.
But would I be able to get through a marathon in Antarctica? Running on ice and snow? I just don't know.
I know fear is useful -- it's a survival instinct. But I don't want to let fear limit me -- especially if it is fear of failure, rather than fear of harm if you see what I mean.
I remember the night before heading out into the highlands of Irian Jaya, how I was so scared I kept throwing up. I had been traveling around Indonesia for several weeks, and at one point had mentioned to my well-connected aunt that I would like to see the Dani tribe in Irian Jaya. Before I really knew it what was happening, she had contacted an old school friend who had become the bupati (mayor? governor?) of Wamena, the largest town in the highlands... and within a few days I was on a flight to Biak.
I stumbled through my time there -- I was met at the airport in Biak and settled with a family for a night. The family owned the local Toyota dealership, but I'm not sure how they really fit in to this equation. The young people who worked for the family took me out for an evening in Biak which involved karaoke. You haven't lived until you've sung an Elvis song ("Suspicious Minds", of course) in a room full of people who don't understand the lyrics or how the song should sound.
The next morning I met the bupati, his wife, and staff, and we went to the airport where we boarded a plane that was half-filled with barrels that stank of oil and gave off groans and clanks and metallic whines as we took off for the highlands. The flight seemed endless... but I'm pretty sure it was only about an hour long.
I spent the day being taken around the village by the bupati's aides. I bought fruit, water, and noodles at the local market; visited a museum, and met my guide and porter. How charmingly Victorian, I thought -- I can go for a 3-day trek, having to carry nothing but my water bottle.
But the night before we left, I was seized by fear -- would I be able to get through it? It was a long, sleepless night, so we set off with me feeling pretty wretched. We were driven to a small village, and set free.
In the intervening years, a lot of this trek has become hazy. I remember hiking up a steep hill, on a track cut so deeply by footptrints that I got mud on my shoulders. I remember crossing a ragin river on a bridge made of vines and sticks. I remember seeing my first Dani tribesmen, and being honored by being "introduced" to their mummified elders. I remember meeting the family I would stay with, and the lovely little piglets who would be sharint a hut with us. I also remember being so terrified of the latrine in the first village we stayed in that I basically stopped peeing for three days. Yeah, i know, not so smart. And, a little shamefullly, I remember being ridiculously happy to come out to the trailhead at the end of the third day to find the bupati's aide, leaning on his jeep in a crisp uniform, holding a lukewarm bottle of Coke and waiting for me
It's like when we were on the Carros de Foc trek -- we were both afraid a few times, but I guess we knew that we would be so darn proud of ourselves when we finished. I guess that's the same way I would get through something like the Antarctica Marathon -- a mix of terror and looking forward to being happy to be finished.

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