By the time I had clicked on my headlamp I was already starting to feel better about my decision to do a midnight run through the Bangor City Forest. Committing to be a part of one of Dale’s adventures always seems to happen in phases for me. When he first describes a rough outline of what we’ll be doing, it always sounds like a horrible idea (even though it usually sounds less ambitious at this stage than what we wind up accomplishing in the end). He has an infectious enthusiasm though, and it’s hard to turn down something you know would be good for you. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about it too much at this stage, because as a father of three, there are often scheduling issues that prevent me from doing these things. When I discuss the plan with my wife I’m usually feeling pretty comfortable at home and secretly hoping she’ll tell me I can’t do it. If she says she can spare me for a bit, then I’ve managed to put myself in a corner; I’ve already told two people I wanted to do it, gotten official approval, and it’s too late to back out.
The next stage involves coordinating with Victor Irwin. To get the full outdoor adventure experience it definitely helps to have someone there who’s as tough as a bear. Someone who will help keep you focused. Once he’s on board the whole thing has a sort of inertia, and there’s no question that you will show up to do some work.
This particular night, things were looking up, because I had followed Dale’s advice and decided to use a headlamp. This time I would be able to see where I was going and wouldn’t keep tripping and crashing into stuff in the dark. It also meant that I wouldn’t miss all of the exciting night time sights, such as a ridiculous number of porcupines (is there a number of porcupines other than 0 or 1 that wouldn’t be ridiculous?), frogs, and a bat that flew right at Dale’s head! It also meant I had a useful distraction for when the going got tough. And on an adventure with Dale it always gets tough.
The terrain was varied, but you really had to watch your step the whole way through. At times we were slogging through flooded skidder trails or running far from any trail, uphill through dense brush. Hazards included slippery or sharp rocks, water with really deep sticky mud, large thick roots, eye level branches, and those numerous bumbling porcupines.
When all was said and done we covered about 14 miles in a relatively short amount of time. Part of what seemed to make the time go by so quickly was the discussions. People really seem to think about things deeply when they’re digging deep within themselves to push through something physically. Victor shared something that I haven’t stopped thinking about since that night.
It was his first serious run with Dale after a long winter break, and right in the beginning he was breathing hard. I’ve known Victor long enough to know that he has an incredible degree of mental toughness, but this seemed like real trouble. Dale plans these runs to push people to their limits no matter how well conditioned they are.
I was amazed to see that despite sounding as though he might collapse and die at any moment, he didn’t really slow down at all. He maintained his pace. He did this with a look of determination on his face that I didn’t see change for even a second.
When I asked him how he managed it, he said that he just brought himself to a point where there was no going back. It would be easier to follow Dale, no matter what was ahead, than it would be to find his way back through the forest at night (or admit defeat and ask everyone to turn back).
The more I think about this the more I think that this is the key to everything I’ve ever wanted in life that also intimidates me. Sometimes you just have to bring yourself to a place where the only option is to go forward. A place where the path of victory is less treacherous than the path of defeat.