Escalante Overland Route
A friend sent me a link and it sparked an idea. I saw an opportunity and convinced a different friend to join me on a quest to be the first to do something. Despite some set backs, we made it to the starting line and succeeded in our goal. Maybe we were the first to accomplish it, maybe not. From what we can tell, we probably were. Also, we are probably the fastest.
The route is called the Escalante Overland Route as described by Steve Allen in Canyoneering 3. With the description, we plotted out the route and hiked/climbed it in a single push. It was specifically designed to not be done in a single push, but at 80 miles, we thought it was possible. As that challenge wasn't enough, we saw a natural starting point that added about 20 miles for a 100 mile route. The route is mostly off-trail filled with bushwhacking, navigation, route-finding, and even technical climbing. That makes for lower mileage days. Adventure Alan estimated that the route the two of us did would take 7.5 days at a minimum, and we finished in 5 days, 7 hours, 32 minutes. It was the first time I ever did something where I was the first to do it and I had a partner to share it with. On paper, this had everything I could want.
Earlier, I wrote out my thoughts on the trip and posted them here. I soon found out that I missed the mark, so I edited it. Since then, I spent a lot of time processing the trip and no longer believed what I posted. Triumph was involved in the post and there is no triumph for me. I never celebrated the accomplishment even though it was very important to me to get a first like that and I never will because I don't think there is anything about how I performed that merits celebration. I even deleted all mentions of my trip from social media as even those have some celebration to them.
To me, the dominant themes behind posts about long distance hiking either describe a utopian view of long distance hiking and long distance hikers or try to show how badass the long distance hiker is. I want to be a badass so I seek out challenges like this one. That means I should celebrate my first first as I work towards becoming the badass I want to be. I should post pictures of the hike to show how beautiful the area was to promote the utopian view of the outdoors and write about the challenges I overcame to show what a badass I am without actually saying it. There's only one problem, I don't believe any of that.
The Escalante Overland Route is the biggest mistake of my outdoor "career". Sure we finished the route without any real injuries. Our legs looked like hell, but that just told a better story about the challenges we overcame. But, I have no pride in this trip. I have no pictures of this trip. I have a hard time even talking about this trip. When a friend congratulated me, I had to refuse it.
I am trying to learn from this trip so that I don't repeat the same mistakes. I wrote out my lessons to help drive them into my head and regularly have gone over them. As I talked through them with a friend, I had to admit that at least one of the lessons wouldn't have worked even if I did that because my ambition clouded my judgment.
I believe in being aggressive and making it to the starting line. There's no way you can succeed at something you never start. I did those. Everything I put into my head pre-trip was along those lines and that's the way I behaved. The problem is that I kept making mistakes that made us less safe. My aggression put my partner at risk, not just me. I keep looking back and seeing mistakes I made that I used to get mad at friends of mine for making. My ambition clouded my judgment.
As my lessons had a lot to do with the headspace I was in, there was no way I could have changed my behavior even if I had those lessons in hand so long as my ambition clouded my judgment. It's the only time in my life that I regret making it to the starting line. I believe in being ambitious, but not at the cost of my judgment. When I look back, my best judgment tells me that we were in over our heads and never should have started the trip.
Even pre-trip, I had notions of how strong we needed to be as climbers to safely execute this route and we weren't strong enough or experienced enough. I never saw that during our scouting trips or during the actual trip. As assumptions I made proved wrong, I never changed how I acted based on those assumptions. When we hiked or climbed our way through the route, I never thought about safety, so I acted carelessly. All of that put my partner at risk. Sure we got through it, but I was unsafe which made us unsafe.
If my ambition and judgment worked together, we never would have started. We just would have scouted out the route more thoroughly as we put together a plan to come back at a later time to do it. Maybe someone else would have beaten us to the punch and been first, but that's what good judgment dictated. I never even entertained the thought. Good judgment was so far from my head that all kinds of things I knew better than to do, I did repeatedly.
My partner put us in for a fastest known time and it was approved. At one point, having a fastest known time meant something to me, but now that I have one, I can only look at it with regret and wish my name wasn't there.
The final lesson I needed a friend to help me out with. I can't let this trip define me as an outdoorsman, as a hiking partner, as a friend, or as a human. On this trip, I failed at all of those. Choosing to not let it define me means that I will continue to be an outdoorsman; I will continue to have hiking partners from time to time (I generally hike solo); I will continue to have friends and try to be a good friend; I will continue to try to be a good human. I will even continue to be ambitious and aggressive. I will continue to fight to make it to the starting line. I just will also fight to not let my ambition cloud my judgment and hike with the intention of keeping my hiking partner(s) safe.