I've got an ear worm. Usually an ear worm is a song you can't get out of your head. No matter how much you try, the tune keeps repeating, getting progressively more annoying. When I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail a few years back, I got in a long conversation with a fellow hiker about the goofy 1980's song Kung Fu Fighting. It became a near fatal ear worm. For days I left nasty notes to my friend, who followed some miles behind me, in every trailside notebook. Kung Fu Fighting rattled around endlessly. I smile every time I think about that song.
This time the pesky bug is not a song, but a chain of thought that's been knocking around my head all winter. The annoying bug is my thoughts on failure. I wrote about my 2012 trip to Alaska back in January - calling it a failure. In one sense of the word, it was a failure. We didn't finish the route we had planned, and exited at an alternate pick-up point. But we spent 9 days in the Arctic, in some of the most remote and beautiful wilderness on the planet. Rain and snow hammered our route relentlessly. We had a great time and we got along fine. Is that really a failure?
My main point in the previous post was that failure motivates later success. After a lot of thought, I'll now argue that our trip was also a success of the most profound kind. It was profound because we pushed ourselves, squeezing in a trip above the Arctic Circle in a small window of time. The weather gods conspired against us. We had a great time. We found the edge of what we could do under those conditions. Our experience let us change our plans and route, despite the challenges. That's exactly what should happen - a perfect failure. Trips like that are about exploring our personal boundaries, and this kind of failure draws a bright line on that edge. It can happen for all kinds of reasons - insufficient skills, improper psyche, poor fitness, bad weather, injury. Usually it's some combination of events. Exploring that personal edge is what adventure is all about. Teasing it, probing it, learning from that experience. It's been said many times that failure makes success meaningful. You can't feel how true that is until you have such a good failure. I hope to return to the Arrigetch Peaks someday to finish the route. Whether I return is not important. What is important is the sense of adventure and the pulse of motivation that have been fueled not by failure, but by the depth of emotion experienced on my personal edge. It's exactly why I love it so.
Here's to edges, yours and mine. Let's go find them.