Choosing to Stop

If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning (waaaay back on 6th March 2019 – well it feels like way back!) you’ll know I enjoyed a 2 week rafting and hiking trip through the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2018.

The hiking parts of the trip ranged from short walks of 20-60 minutes into beautiful side canyons to 3-5 hour 7-8 mile round trips involving half of the hike being “straight up”.

On our trip we did two of these longer hikes. Both of these hikes started around 7-7.30am so as to avoid the midday sun and super hot temperatures. Most days on the trip the thermometer reached the mid to high 90 degree F and often crept into the hundreds.

I enjoy a warm sunny day and can even tolerate sojourns into hot if I’m lying by a pool or have the ocean at my feet to offer a cool down option if needed. I’m not used to nor it seems do I do well hiking up steep trails with no shade in 97 degree temperatures.

My numptie brain hadn’t even thought about the local conditions that meant a 7-8 mile hike in the Grand Canyon is probably a wee bit different to a 7-8 mile walk in the Dorset Countryside or even the Lake District. I have easily managed or at least coped with day hikes of 8-13 miles and yet my pre trip enthusiasm for my Grand Canyon adventure had blinded me to the very different conditions I would face. I knew it would be hot (the 3 big tubes of factor 30+ sunscreen that I packed prove that) but I hadn’t put 2 + 2 together in determining what that would actually mean in reality.

Prior to my trip, I had done 15 months of “getting fit” with a personal trainer. Those months had there ups and downs, as injury or illness got in my way, but I was certainly fitter when I boarded the flight to the USA than I was 15 months earlier, and I felt good. As I quickly discovered, all that training wasn’t nearly enough or of the right type and intensity to fully prepare me for the conditions I’d find. For the Grand Canyon hikes it was apparent I was unfit and unprepared.

When you’ve dreamed of something for so long and the Universe conspires for that dream to become real, I for one was going to jump in – all in.

On the first of these hikes we started off as a group of @21, but very soon the rock hoppers and “wings for feet” members of the group faded into the distance ahead of me. I, as it turns out, am a plodder.

As the sun fully revealed its rays and heat to this beautiful day, I quickly heard my legs saying “really? up there?”

This hike was about 7 miles up to a plateau which was only just visible from our camp but kept disappearing as the trail meandered steadily upwards over scree, scrubland, rock piles and boulder fields. It was exposed fully to the heat 98% of the way. After what seemed like an age but was probably about 1 ½ hours, my body was screaming and yelling “enough”.

I could see a big boulder field ahead and the stragglers of the main group disappearing over the top. I was the tail end Charlie. A combination of the heat and my lack of leg fitness (funnily enough my heart and lungs were OK) resulted in an assessment of – I’m struggling.

I decided that I’d take a break at the boulders and “review my situation”

I really felt like stopping. My back and legs hurt, I was burning up from the heat and was feeling slightly dizzy. I’d already drunk nearly 2 of the 3 litres of water I was carrying and my face had already devoured two applications of factor 30 sunscreen.

The shade welcomed me and I was soon calling a big slab of rock home.

  • I can’t go any further – I’m done physically.
  • I’d better stop because I feel heat stroke is bubbling.
  • I’ll run out of water.
  • It’s not a race or a competition.
  • I don’t have to prove anything.
  • Unfortunately I’m not fit enough – it is what it is.
  • There’s no shame in turning back.
  • I’m here to enjoy myself.

All of these thoughts appeared as my heart rate settled, I undid my bootlaces and drank more water. These were all perfectly valid thoughts, good reasons and justifications, why it would be OK if I quit.

And yet…

There was a voice deep within me that I suddenly heard say,

“You can choose to stop, but don’t quit”

In that moment I knew. I knew that I wanted to and even needed to continue to make it to the top and back. I knew I was not going to quit. It was visceral. It was as if I was unable to simply choose to stop.

I was committed to reaching the top for me.

And so 25 minutes later, after finding relief in the shade, I set off again. Within minutes I saw the forerunners coming back down towards me. I could hear my inner voice say – “It’s OK, just choose to stop” but I couldn’t; I wanted to but something within me kept saying, “No, keep going. You want to really”.

As the first 5 people passed me on their way down they each in turn said, “not far, you can do it, it’s worth it when you get there” I smiled or was I grimacing? And I kept plodding.

After about another 40 minutes, I could see the plateau I was destined to reach. As more people passed me on their way back to camp, they all very supportively said, “nearly there, wait ‘til you see the views, just go around that corner, climb up and you’re there”: I duly did as they said.

With about 5 or 6 people still up top 3 of them practicing some kind of martial art, I arrived red faced, breathing steadily and with very tired legs; but on stepping up onto the final rocks to the plateau, I could feel the pride and relief rush over me.

I got my water bottle out and took a big slug, then slowly I gazed 360 degrees at a view that the word awesome was truly invented for.

I wanted to capture the moment so I got my camera out and asked someone to do the honours. I couldn’t have cared less about my beetroot face, “interesting hair” or flappy shirt revealing a little too much tummy. I then wanted to celebrate with a photo with some of the friends who had got there before me so we went click click again (OK so digital cameras don’t go click but you get my drift)

After about 25 minutes and a protein bar, I set off back down the canyon to camp, eagerly anticipating flopping into the cold water of the river. Going down was so much easier for me than going up and the cooling off was wonderful.

It’s now eight months since that hike and I still remember it clearly. However the lasting memory that really sums up that hike and the other long hike a week later, is the sentence that appeared from somewhere deep within me,

“You can choose to stop but don’t quit.”

I firmly believe this served and is serving me well as a living mantra.

At face value stopping and quitting might seem the same thing. For me, in that inner voice moment, on that hike there was definitely a difference.

Quitting for me is about giving up, giving in and being defeated; it feels like failure, it feels almost shameful, it feels like I’d let myself down and let something external to me decide for me. Stopping is about coming to an end through choice and does not, for me, have any “negative” feelings attached to it.

Some of you might be thinking they’re just words and you’re right. They are just words. And yet the meaning or power we attach to them can influence and determine how we think, feel and act.

If you don’t believe in the power of words consider for a moment,

  • The bullied young boy who self harms because his friends call him a weakling.
  • The teenage girl who develops anorexia because her gymnastics coach caller her fat
  • The under confident 40 year old mother who fears starting a business because after falling pregnant at 16 and leaving school was told she’d never amount to anything.
  • The mid 50s person who is frightened to give up work and go travelling because their colleagues say they’re irresponsible
  • The multitude of words that many people of race, colour, religion, sexual orientation etc. allow to define who they are or are not.

Words can hurt or heal, they can diminish or inspire they can cause fear or promote love, and only if we allow them to.

I believe that we all have the power to define for ourselves the meaning we give to words.

Will we use them to help us or hinder us?
Will we give that power away to others?
Will we take accountability for believing who we are and choose our paths accordingly?

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