Sunday, July 28, 2013

Delusions of grandeur quelled by heat-induced delusions and new information

Dehydration is nothing if not humbling. Being humbled is nothing if not humbling. The day's weather on my 75th ascent of Mount Sentinel this year was nothing if not humbling.

95 degrees and windless, Thursday's outing challenged the dynamic tension between heat and water retention. With every labored breathe I could feel my body's water content evaporating. Like a watermelon in a food dehydrator, my body was tormented as it lamented the loss of its vital liquid.

From the outset of the 75th ascent, I felt invincible: strong, swift, steady and focused. These are the elements that, when experienced in excess, can take a person from self-assuredness straight to hubris. I am unstoppable and unflappable! This jump from self-assuredness to grand control over all is not so much a slippery slope as a concave precipice: it unequivocally ends in a crash.

Life, in its fullness, is quick to remind us of our limits. I failed to adjust my standard pace on account of the heat. 15 minutes in and halfway to the summit my body's water resources were depleted: dehydration had determined that I would be a vessel of its moisture vacuity on this day. So it goes. And so it went.

Unwilling to accept that something like heat could affect my performance, I pushed on, on pace for the standard 30 minute ascent. A few minutes later I was standing on the summit. The heat had vanquished the precious life-sustaining goodness called water. It won handedly. Bad decisions rarely yield good results. This instance was no exception.

Nausea set in. Stomach cramps took hold. A slight twinge in the fore of my head portended of aches to come. As usual, I did not linger on the summit. I headed down at a brisk pace wishing away all of the symptoms that had developed (I also quietly harangued myself for the poor decision making that had gotten me to this point).

The descent, as usual, was also uneventful, save for the sickness that had settled in. To distract myself, I remained focused on the prize: a drinking fountain at the base of the mountain. 30 minutes later, I found myself where I started, sucking down copious amounts of water from the drinking fountain. I counted my blessings, stretched and hopped on my bike for a short ride home.

I had been in this place - dehydration and heat exhaustion - many times before during my ultra-marathon running days. I imbibed 20 ounces of Gatorade and 40+ ounces of water upon getting home. The story does not get any more interesting from this point. In fact, it probably peaked on top of the mountain. I recovered quickly and feel like a million bucks again, etc. etc.

All right. So. At the Mount Sentinel Trailhead, before heading up, I noticed a small index card tacked to general notice board. On it read: "#5000 to the top of mount sentinel, RLS, 05/25/2013". If I am reading this correctly, RLS, whomever that is, completed their 5000th summit of Mount Sentinel this week. That is mind-blowing!  We are talking on average 100 summits a year for 50 years or 200 summits a year for 25 years. Unbelievable! This new information, was immediately humbling, reminding me that my goal of 100 summits of Mount Sentinel in 2013 was, in the world of serious hikers and athletes, peanuts. It was a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.

Any delusion of grandeur, of being great or exceptional this day, the 75th ascent, was quickly brought into check by the elements, God's realm, and by human performance, God's other realm. This isn't to say that I really considered myself great, but I did consider the objective unique to me. My goal was based solely on my abilities post-RA. And, it lives a balance that includes family, friends, work and other hobbies. The elements and humans will always challenge that fine line between self-assuredness and hubris.

We ought to do things for our own betterment in the context of a community. Without that grounding, that context, we are simply tinkering with the status quo of self-gratification and are liable to die - both physically and spiritually - from heat exhaustion and competition.

The moral of this post: drink more water, exercise in the heat smartly and never compare yourself to others, especially those that are known to you only by mysterious index cards.

Onward and upward,


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