An Extreme Athlete’s Vision Quest:
My quest began at 2:00 pm on September 17, 2014 in Grand Teton National Park as I plunged my toes into the icy water of Jenny lake and started the first phase of the “Around-the-Clock” triathlon, my personally-created endurance (or as I like to call it: sufferfest) test. But before I could begin, I had to convince myself that I could always turn around if things got out of hand. Physically, I had pushed myself before. I had completed several alpine triathlons of lesser magnitude with long bike rides, cold water swims, and climbing Teton peaks in about 12 hours of continuous movement. At the finish line of each of these solo expeditions, however, I always left with the feeling that I had more to give. I became curious: “where is my limit?” In a desire to see what I was capable of, I created the “Around-the-Clock” triathlon by linking some of the most challenging swims, bikes, and runs in the region. I had no idea if I could do it, but was excited to try.
Six hours later, I was still swimming. My head swiveled between the bright sky and the murky underworld of of the lake. My body kept up well but was starting to shake every time my pace slowed in the cold mountain water. I had several moments of doubt, but decided to persevere after remembering what others had attempted before me. It gave me strength to imagine the first athlete to finish “The Picnic” an elite and individual triathlon that consisted of biking from the town of Jackson, swimming across Jenny Lake and then summitting the Grand Teton and back. His voice echoed in my head, “There is no backwards, go towards the darkness.”
When I exited the water, my legs felt unsteady as I looked around the perimeter of the lake to gain some perspective on how far I had come. Taking it all in, I was immediately overwhelmed by the distance I had covered. I realized that the only way I made it was by practicing repetition: breathe, move, repeat, and asking myself the one question that mattered: “Can I overcome what is in front of me right now?”
Ten miles into the run, I rounded the corner of Paintbrush Divide. The Tetons came into view and the sun started to set and my fear began to rise. My hands instinctively reached for my pepper spray as I turned up the sound on my playlist to drown out any thoughts of mountain lions and bears. The dark woods becamemy concert hall as I belted out cheesy pop songs in an attempt to distract both the animals and myself. For the next 31 miles, I alternated between feeling horrible and great, always on the lookout for the next uphill. At three o’clock in the morning with only the dull beam of a headlamp to keep me company, my foggy mind wandered to my climbing partner, the first blind female to summit the Grand Teton. Her smile was a constant reminder that one’s perceptions become one’s reality. Her words were etched in my memory “Let one thought consume you; just keep moving.”
As I crested the last four mountain passes, I reflected on why I had undertaken such an arduous task. I realized that attempting such a feat could show me what was possible, not only in the physical realm, but in my everyday life. Testing my ability to endure, this journey was about self discovery with the ultimate goal of personal evolution.
By the time I reached my bike on Teton Pass, I had been moving for 19 hours. I only cared about three things: food, water and warmth. I had stashed a large supply of pasta, granola bars and chocolate in the woods. To a passerby, I must have looked like a madman as I devoured every last morsel. Peddling, I realized that the never-ending hills and unrelenting wind were allies with my doubt and increasing vulnerability. When I hit 98 miles to fix my second flat tire, my spirit was exhausted and the possibility of not finishing crept into my psyche. But I persevered as the whispering words of my mentor, a pioneering alpinist and trusted friend, pushed me forward to pay tribute to his memory, “Go until failure, forget that stopping is an option.”
His words played over in my head as I struggled—in a state between psychotic breakdown and spiritual bliss—up the steep incline of Teton Pass toward my final destination. I released my grip on reality. I had exceeded my mental limit and something primal took over. Like a deer being chased in the woods, I convinced myself that my survival was at stake if I stopped. I was overcome with a sense of unbounded interconnection. The story of my life dissolved and I was left with only the present moment in my experience. I forgot that I was separate from the scene around me and the whole world slowed down. I had plugged into a source of energy larger than me and it provided me with what I needed most: stillness. I had wiped my mental slate clean. My future was a blank page of limitless possibilities.
In the end, the “Around-the-Clock” triathlon took me 30 continuous hours to accomplish. While it might seem crazy to some, this quest was my way of saying “I am willing to try.” The strength and willpower I found during my journey flows into all aspects of my life. Now when I face a challenge, my synapses fire in a chorus of “I can do this” and the voice of self-doubt that once permeated my mind is silenced.
I hope my story inspires you to stop waiting for that perfect time to test your limits—physically, mentally or emotionally—and have the courage to begin your own personal evolution by reclaiming your mind. Choose to abandon the failures of your past, reject the anxiety of your future, and replace them with the ability to overcome the obstacles in your present. Decide to let go of hollow excuses, stop listening to the inner voice that whimpers “I’m not good enough”, and start asking the questions that make you feel uncomfortable. Start asking, “What am I capable of? Can I overcome what is in front of me right now? Where is the edge of my possible?