I’m not very good at a lot of things. Normally this isn’t a problem, but back in 2007 I was asked to join a group of friends who were planning to summit Washington State’s Mount Rainier. Most of them, like me, hadn’t ever climbed a big mountain before, let alone a 14,411-foot glaciated stratovolcano that would require the use of crampons, prusiks, carabiners, and several other words I’d never heard of before. It was easy to imagine, though, that one bad misstep up there could literally kill me and leave my poor wife with nothing left to comfort her aside from fleeting memories and a bunch of insurance money, so we both reluctantly decided I shouldn’t join them.
I then went ahead and joined them because making sensible decisions is on the list of things I’m not very good at. Also on that list, I learned, were a multitude of fundamental mountaineering skills. Like growing facial hair, for example. And not being deathly afraid of heights. And knowing if I needed to buy multiple ice-axes or if the same one could be used to prevent tumultuous freefalls and to open cans of frozen chili and to fend off murderous yeti.
As winter slogged towards spring and the day of the climb neared, I found myself struggling less on the training hikes than expected. Sometimes even less than others on the team. And the longer and higher the climb, the better I fared. I certainly wasn’t exercising more than anyone else and was too poor to afford any decent performance-enhancement drugs, so my progress was baffling. To all of us.
I then noticed a subtle difference in our nutritional strategies. My teammates, it seemed, were only carrying a few light snacks and consuming them randomly throughout the day, often hours apart, which was leaving them hungry and sluggish on our ascents. In contrast, I was filling my entire pack, including the spaces normally reserved for extra clothing and safety gear, with a variety of delicious rations then grazing my way up the mountain like a nomadic all-you-can-eat buffet. Sure, I was initially disappointed that my apparent surge of athleticism wasn’t triggered by a radioactive spider bite, but after discovering I could chew and swallow and walk competently for very short distances, I just focused on doing that, repeatedly, until I’d eaten my way to the top of Rainier.
I’d like to say this experience bolstered my self-esteem and gave me a newfound set of skills to tackle the seemingly impossible, but here’s the thing: it didn’t. I’m never going to conquer the Seven Summits or win a single Tour de France or earn any awards for World’s Sexiest Husband.
And that’s okay.
I’m still going to venture outside with friends and go biking with my kids and bring flowers home to my amazing wife. Repeatedly. Because sometimes in the end, it’s the seemingly insignificant things that matter most. And thankfully, those are the things I’m pretty good at.