It took less than five minutes before pain took over my fingers. Despite two pairs of gloves the cold had worked its way in and I could feel my hands starting to harden like blocks, getting almost unbearably painful before becoming numb. The skin below my eyes tingled as the sweat lightly frosted on the rims of my sunglasses and stuck to my face.
"Turn around at the cattle grid". I told myself. My husband and I had agreed to run/hike or ski at least a mile every day for the month of December, to keep ourselves motivated and avoid the steady piling on of pounds which accompanies the quieter months away from running and biking events.
The cattle grid turnaround marked our 1.3 mile minimum and I could easily have justified heading home from there, despite four miles being my goal for the day. The 15 degree temperature was augmented by a north wind and although it was subtle, it brought a biting wind chill. I have run in temps as low as -1 F but never had I felt as cold as this.
At the cattle grid I pressed on, knowing I would be unhappy with myself if I quit. I've been told numerous times that I have a determined streak, and while I take it as a compliment, I am cautious about this quality being altogether good - many times through life I have gone determinedly in the wrong direction, ignoring my gut instinct and blinkered from good advice. And many times I have ended up not where I wanted to be. However I listen more to my instinct these days and I was questioning whether it was the right decision to carry on. I was beginning to sweat and I was concerned it would make me colder. My running slowed as I tried to prevent more moisture building up on my skin.
"What's the point?" I asked myself. "I'm going to be walking if I go any slower, why be out here?"
A raven flew low in front of me, followed by two more. Glancing to where they came from I saw what looked to be a discarded roll of carpet which the ravens had been picking at. I felt angry, not just at the people who had thrown it out there, but at the birds for wasting their energy and time on something which could not keep them alive. "What's the point?" I also asked them.
I reached the two mile mark and turned around, happy to be achieving the mileage goal but unhappy with the workout, this was supposed to be a tempo run, where I kept my speed up and worked hard - and here I was running so as not to sweat.
Occasionally people also say: "What is the point?" to those of us who opt for the harder route in life rather than the easy path - whether through tough sports, living in harsh environments or stepping back from the culture of comfort the western world enjoys. What is it about - for want of a better phrase - 'living on the edge' that is so worthwhile when people have to struggle to achieve it. Sometimes, like on this run, I ask myself the same question. But in this case I was also asking myself why I was allowing myself to give in to the fear of what would happen if I got too cold, for not allowing myself to take the risk and find out - I was only two miles from home for God's sake, live a little. I already know why I choose the harder routes and I'm not sure it's something you can explain to someone who doesn't already understand.
I reached the point where the ravens were massing and stopped abruptly. I realized what I'd thought was a roll of carpet was actually the carcass of a deer, its skin rolled back and its flesh and bones exposed. The ravens were not wasting their time and energy, they could clearly see what I had not been able to at first and were filling their bellies with meat, keeping themselves alive.
I started to run again, only this time I didn't worry about sweating. I flew. My hands dampened and instead of freezing like I anticipated, warmed up. My fogged-up sunglasses slid down my sweaty nose and my whole body tingled with warmth. I felt alive as I reached my driveway.
Do I feel better than those who choose not to put themselves in hard places, or even harms way, to achieve meaning in life? No, we all have different strengths, needs and limits. Just like we all have our demons and dark sides. Some people find life's beauty in art or music, or their raison d'etre in good food and great company. None of us are the same.
Do I personally feel a better mother, wife and person after making myself physically work hard, to triumph over my inner doubts, to not give up? Do I feel alive and fulfilled after being the deep, dark woods fighting fear, fatigue and the little voice in my head that says 'just quit'?
Yep, works for me.