Whatever you think you can do or
believe you can do, begin it. Action
has magic, grace and power in it.
From the Joel Zucker plaque
My last post about Tim's HR100 race essentially highlighted the risk involved in that particular race (the 2011 version specifically) and suggested that it might be worthwhile to interrupt our congratulatory hoots and raise-the-roofs in light of the gravity of the situation. To my point, he got all kinds of pats on the back for his efforts. Mine was definitely a marginal perspective (and I did say "Nice F-ing job, dude" as well).
As is typical of this human world, the majority voice gets its word heard most and pretty much colors the overall impression of whatever is being calculated; the minority view needs more evidence or must simply persist using all means of strategy and eloquence and might in the end catch a small share of the ears dangling out there in the wind.
My reconciliation of HR100 concerns a discussion of what I want to call mountain ethos or mountain creed. The mountain, needlesstosay, has its own culture. That culture has a language, values, histories, laws, competing regimes, kings and queens, etc. It's a culture. And the members of that culture have a natural way of seeing the world that is particular to that culture, the histories, values, etc.
This may seem obvious, but what Tim did, or what AJW did at Angeles Crest 100 in 2004, or even what Eric Skaggs did to his kidneys a few years ago (shame on him!) are all of them understood as inherent/germane to this lifestyle of the mountain. So, the congratulatory emails and blog posts for Tim and other runners and hikers and climbers that have met some manner of crisis are true to the mountain creed.
In fact, these kinds of disasters are expected; there is no doubt an understanding that people will suffer trauma during such adventurous events as mountainous 100s (any type of ultra or endurance race for that matter). I think my last post works as a concerned reader saying, "wait, that's not as cool as you all think. In fact, I think that sucked." But in the context of what Tim was doing and what all endurance athletes are doing, especially ultra distance mountain runners, what he did is fairly courageous and, well, amazing (okay, I said it). We might even venture to say that what he and others did in that race is par for the course.
Chris' comments that Tim excerpted in his HR100 Afterthoughts post speak to this kind of mountain ethos. I have to copy them here:
"I hope you made it back to civilization alight and are recovering well. I just wanted to tell you again how impressed I was with how you stuck in with the race, and more importantly, how you handled yourself when things went south out in Putnam. I was glad to be able to be around and able to lend a hand to you and JT, but the person that saved you was you. If you weren't as tough and as well-trained as you are, you never would have pulled off a 2 hour wander in those conditions. At that point when we had to turn around and head back, hoping to find a flag to get us back on track, I've never had a more sickening feeling in my gut. Most people, even having made it as far as you had, lose it right there and I pretty much figured I'd killed you with that wrong turn. That you had the guts to turn it around and keep moving at that point is what made for a successful close to the evening.
All that crap aside, great work getting after the run and sticking in to the finish. I'll let you draw your own lessons about what Hardrock is and what it isn't, but in my opinion, the guys like yourself, Mike Mason, Christian Johnson, and some of the other legit racers who saw their goals and expectations crumble but still pushed on for the finish help define what the run is all about. It's not Western States, and never will be."
Heavy. There is no bullshit there. There's a very clear view of the world shaped in those words.
That's just one particular example of the mountain creed at work, carrying-on despite all kinds of hell in the belly of that whale.
I pasted a picture of Chris McCandless in my aforementioned post. I said Tim's report read reminiscent of Into the Wild. I might have been stretching that some, but Tim's incredible candor about his self-perception, the role his own insecurities played in that Hardrock ordeal further that connection between McCandless and what some ultra runners put themselves through to finish.
But here I bring-up McCandless for the way Krakauer makes vivid an extreme version of this mountain creed. Krakauer defends McCandless. His book is an argument that claims the boy is more admirable than many experts think. In his account of the boy's fatal journey, Krakauer supports his argument with references to Jack London, Thoreau, Everett Ruess, John Muir, and even Krakauer himself in his bid to climb Alaska's Devil's Thumb. There are other references as well, all of them made to somehow suggest that what McCandless did is just part of the mountain or wilderness creed. And yes, as is the case with some of his examples, death is part of the ethos of the mountain, the mountain character.
I would say one of the big ethical arguments of committing to such brutal trials of man vs. wild is man and woman's willingness to die.
Granted, I think my previous post was legit and I loved the comments some readers left. But I think I stand corrected, so to speak. We might agree that Hardrock should undergo some genre scrutiny (should it be classified as "trail 100 miler?"), but in the end that's not going to happen given the heart and soul of the ultra running community. That would be way out of character.