Meeting the Challenge: Fields of Flowers and Selection 017
It was 2003 and I had claimed my very own seat on a city bus in Chengdu, China. I had already won a small battle; this was the first time I wasn't stuck under some sweaty shirtless man's armpit standing pressed against another 100 people trying to see the street from the fogged up windows.
Even before I landed the seat, I was feeling quite proud of myself for being able to read the sign that said this was the bus that would take me home. Though it was headed in the wrong direction, I thought that since the roads in the city ran on a ring system, and I was on the other side of the ring from my house, it didn't really matter which direction the bus was traveling; I'd get there eventually.
I was a bit wrong about this. Careening through Chengdu City on that gray afternoon, just before my usual stop, the bus took a sharp turn off of the main road. I yelled at the driver to stop, but he smiled and had no intention of pulling over. The next stop was 20 minutes away, through rapeseed fields and on the outskirts of the city. I had no control of the outcome; we finally arrived at the city bus depot.
Sitting in the back of the bus crying, not understanding anything anyone was saying, I was literally lost. I had no idea where I was and no idea how to get back to where I was going. The bus driver dragged me off the bus and told me to go away. I stood in a dirt parking lot, wondering what to do...
This is what was on my mind for a moment when I was sitting in a truck, recovering from hypothermia at GoRuck Selection 017.
Just moments before, I heard someone yelling in my face "Stop f'ing SHIVERING!"
I remember rolling back and forth in the freezing water, doing some inch worms, getting farted on in the face, standing up, pressing my ruck over my head, then...nothing.
Later the cadre would tell me that we were taken out of the water to run around and get warmed up. However at the end of the run, I stumbled in a different direction than the remaining 8 candidates. The cadre chased after me, basically carried me to a truck, then tried to warm me out of my stupor; they wanted me to go back out there and rejoin the welcome party. It was't meant to be. After 45 minutes, I finally was aware of my surroundings.
But by then it was too late. The welcome party raged on and I found myself shivering and eating a chocolate chip cookie in a 100 degree truck cab. I cried.
How did I get there? Where was my ruck? Why are my boots on the dash?
This reminds me of that time on the bus in China...
I looked through the windshield and saw fields of yellow flowers. I was a bit confused as to why I was back in China.
I brought myself back to reality.
The fields of flowers were actually street lights on the other side of the pond in Bozeman, Montana where we were doing our welcome party. Finally, I understood that I was done with Selection 017 and didn't even have a choice. This outcome was out of my control; just as the outcome of that bus ride through Chengdu city was.
After it was all said and done, I reflected on what Selection meant to me, and what I could have learned; this is what I saw:
Though the end came swiftly, the prologue was much more extensive and interesting. Though the result seems sudden and certain, it wasn't a result at all.
This Selection meant more to me than any other event I had ever trained for.
I spent two years honing my body and mind to handle the stresses I would undergo during the 48 hour Selection event. My life changed drastically; I both gained and lost immeasurable things, all of which were necessary to become who I am today.
And so I see that the journey is not over.
Though I took a sharp turn away from what I saw was the initial end point, that turn was out of my control. What lies before me, and the choices I make to deal with it are all up to me. I can be disappointed for not finishing Selection, or I can see this experience as more training to finish the next one.
Will I be at Selection again?
Well, I like to think about a conversation that my good friend Chris Holt and I had about mountaineer George Mallory and why he climbed Mt. Everest multiple times. Mallory said:
"The first question you will ask and that I will try to answer is this: What is the use of climbing Mt. Everest? and my answer must be: it is of no use. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go."
In thinking about all that lies ahead, I'd like to meet the challenge. I'd like to meet it because my heart calls me there, not because of what I'll get when I have reached the goal. So will I be there again?
How can I not?