Finding Unexpected Adventure through Compassion

I believe in adventure, challenge and compassion. For over 15 years, I have worked for Outward Bound instructing, facilitating and coaching others to find those magical and mystifying moments, often referred to as transformative moments, where these three ideas are in alignment.

Sometimes these moments can be planned, but in my experience these moments are more often unpredictable. It is this element of surprise that creates the mysterious quality of these moments. Moreover, these transformative moments can frequently be obscured by an undesirable situation, so that we neglect to seek the magic and mystery.

In my head, I constructed a glorious image of my three person team, including my husband Jeff, running into Yosemite Valley in 5 – 6 days after completing the John Muir Trail, a 221 mile single track trail through California’s pristine and roadless Sierra Nevada mountains. The trail crosses through four National Parks and begins at Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states of the United States. It was going to be oh so wonderful.

On Day 5, with 50 miles to go, I didn’t expect to be curled up in a fetal position, pale, with fever, chills and horrendous repeated bouts of diarrhea. “You are just having a low, Nettie.” I remember hearing these words from my running partners as my body was flattened like a pancake on the ground. “You are going to get better in an hour or so,” they repeated this several times to me in the next couple hours. Later, I found out they were silently mouthing to each other behind my back, “Have you ever seen her look so bad?”

This was not the beautiful image that was etched into my head of us happily frolicking down the trail into Yosemite Valley. This was the not the mystery or magic! Oh, and while I was curled up in a fetal position, I secretly hummed, “Happy Birthday,” to myself. It was not the brightest day I have ever had.

This curled up limp body had a different plan than continuing the remaining 50 miles. My heart raced at 120 beats per minute, even though I had been laying down wrapped up in my sleeping bag for over 3 hours. My sweat soaked body trembled with chills as I stared up at the incredible night sky for 10 hours straight. I saw Orion’s belt rise and set in my delirious state. I began to open to the mystery and to the wonder of why this was happening.

I felt small, powerless, humble, scared and helpless. There have been only a few times in my life where I have felt such intense and strong emotions all at once bundled up in my body and mind.

I saw compassion emerge in my team taking care of me and rallying to accommodate my feverish state. I saw my own human spirit give in, give over and ultimately accept help. I saw sensible self-denial and patience in my husband as he abandoned his trip to care for me. We grew more intimate! We supported our friend Walter to continue the journey and finish the trip without us. Jeff assisted me and took wonderful care of me the next 20 hours as we hiked 7 miles, took 2 buses and hitchhiked with 3 rides across the Sierra to unite with Walter and our car in Yosemite Valley. The diarrhea accompanied us as well!

We witnessed Walter complete the journey less than 24 hours later. He also represented our 5.5 day adventure and the goals that I had shared to complete the JMT. I had to let go of completing that goal myself – at least for this year. Instead I received the greater gift of being the recipient of human compassion

I am grateful for this unexpected gift of finding compassion — that mysterious component of adventure and challenge.