I recently completed the White Mountains 100 on foot, which is a hundred mile non-motorized excursion on snow machine trails outside Fairbanks in the White Mountains. I did a little write up on my experience, describing the sections that were effortless and those that were especially challenging. My buddy Jill Homer was quick to point out, with Garmin data she collected in prior years, that my perception of up and down was belied by reality. A section that seemed very much all uphill was, evidently, almost entirely downhill. To some extent I am still having trouble accepting the objective truth of the landscape, since my body and mind understood something totally different. But then again, I really enjoy wine from the Bota Box. You might be thinking, “hey, Bota Box isn’t bad and Wine Spectator called it a value!” but you should also know that I will drink almost anything. The reason for this is that if I’m having a fun time and the company is good, whatever I’m drinking tastes good (or good enough). This could be why something that is, objectively, downhill seemed to genuinely be uphill to me. It felt hard and uphill. I was not enjoying a long stretch of trail. I might be drinking an expensive Barolo, but if I am with someone loathsome it will not taste good. Any two individuals’ experiences doing the same thing might be completely different depending on a variety of factors. Hey man, what is reality anyhow? Dennis Hopper said it best in Apocalypse Now:
One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions – what are you going to land on – one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That’s dialectic physics.
OK maybe that awesome “insight” adds nothing (or maybe it does, you tell me), but it brings me to the next point. Like wine, an excess of experience can lead to sensory impairment. No doubt we’ve all reached the point of exhaustion or overload in some endeavor — marching through the snow pulling a sled brought me to the point of hallucination. I have never before hallucinated during an endurance event, so that was a bit disconcerting. But it was sort of awesome. I saw dinosaurs and puppies and other fun animals in the snow. They weren’t moving, they looked like snow sculptures, and really who’s to say that some great giant hand in the sky didn’t craft those animals from snow for my amusement. Seriously, what is real?
Side note: interesting how it’s much more acceptable to walk 100 miles with a sled in Alaska than to drop acid (or drink too much wine).
The real kicker is that experience isn’t even static. During my race I remarked frequently “this is hard” and “this sucks” and “why am I here?” And while I know I was more than a little non-plussed at various moments during the event, my memories are nothing but warm and fuzzy. My experience, whatever it was at the moment it occurred, has been reshaped and remolded into a different experience. So the actual experience at the time it happened seems somewhat irrelevant. Our minds are pretty capable of turning squares into circles so they can smoothly go in the box. At some point it becomes impossible to know for certain what the experience really was. So even if I splurged on a super expensive bottle of wine, would I remember the taste? What would I remember about it? Maybe ultimately how we remember an experience later matters the most. No doubt many a falsely accused standing in a police line-up would attest to this.
What is the point of all this you ask? Jill Homer and I are both wrong and both right. Her Garmin’s truth is not mine. There. That settles it.