Grinding Towards Beauty

So yesterday I decided to avail myself of being so close to a few of the most amazing national parks in the United States, if not the world.  The park of choice?  Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah.  This was really a two-part kind of initiative… because, you know… I’m all about efficiency!  YEAH!  OK, I really never thought of it at a two-part anything.  I just wanted to hike a park whose beauty I’ve long heard stories about.  I just wanted to seem like an efficiency ninja.

The mission was to hike the Angel’s Landing trail.  Now, being someone who likes to have a bit of an understanding of the challenges before me, I decided to read up a bit on what this trail was going to be all about.  This is what I found:

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Hmm.  “Strenuous… Long drop-offs… not for anyone fearful of heights…”  Plus look at that cheerful little illustration of the figure launching himself into the abyss off a cliff.  SUCH FUN!  Plus, I’m an elite athlete in great shape.  My legs are my strong point.  So, in other words… COME AT ME BRO!

So off to Zion I went.  I slapped down my $25 entry fee (good for 7 days, I may add, in the event you want to come back) and made my way to The Grotto area where the West Rim trail begins along the Virgin River.  And I defy you, my friend, to enter into that park, realize you are looking for The Grotto and not continuously sing about it a la Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto”.  Seriously.  Can’t be done.  Especially not after I placed that in your head.

The hike starts off just fine, rolling along the edge of the Virgin River and I was feeling mighty fine with high 60’s/low 70’s weather.

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Look at how happy and at-ease I am! Also, please notice, that I am at the bottom of the hike near the river.  This is not a coincidence.

Umm… and then you begin to hit the incline as the path turns towards the heavens and you begin your ascent.  Holy.  Freaking.  Cow.  It basically becomes an uphill assault on your body with much of the path twisting back and forth and always an exposed side with more of a drop than you care to think about.  Don’t get me wrong – with each passing loop up and up, the views get more and more spectacular.  I ‘m not sure I appreciated them as much as I could have on the way up since I went with my typical approach of going up any steep hill – head down, keep moving and no need to look far ahead because you’ll know when you’re done.

And that’s an important takeaway that has to do with more than just hiking.  As anyone reading this blog knows, I enjoy physical activity a lot, but I’m always looking to find the bigger lesson.  In this case, the approach I would use for a big, long hike up a steep incline is the same as any other big challenge I would face in life – you sometimes just need to put your head down and keep moving.  If you spend all your time looking only at the finish line, the only thought in your head will be that you have SO much farther to go… so many more steps… when will I ever get there… it’s just so hard.  Yeah, that ain’t gonna help with much of anything.  But the process of taking step after step?  Of just driving forward and grinding?  Provided you are pointed in the right direction, you will get there… so why worry about how much farther it’s going to be?  Process over end result can yield a huge win.

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The view from the pinnacle is always worth the struggle.

Well, this process eventually got me to the top.  I felt tired, but elated.  Look at me!  I’m at the top!  Wait, there’s a sign over there… ohh, Angel’s Landing is a little farther.  Only a 1/2 mile eh?  Wait a second… it’s over THERE?!?!?!?  And I need to climb up a cliff face using chains?!?!?

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Umm… yeah, probably not happening today.

I decided to pass up that final 1/2 mile.  I had a few woozy moments on the way up with a nice wide path – I wasn’t in the mood to see how I would feel while hanging off chains on the side of a cliff.

To make up for this less-than-heroic moment, I decided to jog most of the way back down – maybe 1.5 miles worth.  It went fast, smooth and I felt amazing by the time I got to the bottom.  Plus, I had the chance to pause and get one more shot of my shining face:

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It’s all smiles on the way back down.  Smile and really sweaty baseball hats.

It was a great experience that I really cannot recommend strongly enough.  The feeling of being up there and admiring all that amazing natural beauty is hard to put into words.  You feel incredibly small, but incredibly peaceful all at once.

In the end, I took away a few important thoughts:

1) As much as my legs burned on the way up, the payoff was amazing.  You never get the truly great experiences without a little bit of sweat equity.

2) Big challenge.  Head down.  Feet moving.  Don’t stop.  You’ll get there.

3) This didn’t fit my neatly detailed training for the day as I prepared for Tough Mudder.  I did not have my GPS tracker on to tell me exact logging of every step and detail and informational nuance.  Who freakin’ cares?  I got my butt handed to me in gorgeous weather in one of the most beautiful places on earth?  You have to know when data adds nothing but confusion to what should be a very clear path.

I encourage you to find some beauty and grind to get it… and along the way, you may just find beauty in the grind itself too.  I know I did.

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