I had stumbled up the sandy south slope leading to the top of Silver Pass on the John Muir Trail. The pain in my left leg, which had begun the day before while climbing up Selden Pass, had only amplified from the day’s long 19 miles. I knew at that time the challenge of 2020, to hike the JMT from Cottonwood Pass to Yosemite Valley in 6 days, was over. I sat down on a rock, looked out over the vista sweeping out in both directions, dug into my bag, and pulled out the Sat phone. Dialing up Emily, my wife, with effort the statement declaring Red’s Meadow would be the end for me slipped out being met with the absolute knowledge I wouldn’t make it further. After putting the phone away, I leaned back against the rock feeling the relief of the statement I had made and peered out at the vast mountains and valleys laying out before me, not regretting having declared the early end to the challenge, but rather pondering the remaining challenge in the next 22 miles to travel before the day would end.

Later in the evening, after the sun had gone down and all was dark, I stumbled into Red’s Meadow almost in tears from the exertion of the day. I could barely walk at the time and seeing the headlights of our truck approaching I dropped my pack, not defeated, but completely overwhelmed at what I had just accomplished. I had walked from Cottonwood Pass to Red’s Meadow in 5 days, a total of 160 miles over amazing and difficult terrain.

For the most part I am an average athlete and have nothing to brag about. For me these events are challenges both to my body and to my psyche. Each of these challenges make me feel a bit more whole. It is for this reason I create at least one big challenge every year for myself. I think everyone should do this as a method for growth. Your challenge may not be mine and vice versa, but the point of the challenge is a personal thing. You must decide what your challenge should be and here are a few things to think about as you consider yours.

  1. The challenge should be something you consider personally worthwhile.

It makes no difference what the challenge is, but it must be a very personal goal of yours. This is something which will punctuate your life. It will stand out for years to come.

  1. The challenge should have some doubt of success.

The simple part here is if it is known you will succeed then in your mind you will not see it as a real challenge. All true transformative journeys need to be fraught with some bit of doubt of success. You are pushing yourself to find out a new level to live at.

  1. The challenge should also have a degree of reasonable success.

If you pick a challenge which is so far beyond your abilities, you will likely find yourself demoralized long before you set off on your journey. Make it at the limits of your ability and maybe just beyond.

  1. Once you commit to the goal give your heart and soul to see it through.

This does not mean that life will not get in the way, but you can work your way through the roadblock. If life sends you a curve ball which shuts you down this year, the goal will be something so strong you will find yourself planning it for the following year.


As a I plan my own Big Challenge for 2022, I leave you with this encouragement:


About the Author

Brent has been exploring the mountains and oceans since he was young. From rock climbing, big walls to ultra-marathons, sailing, diving, and long trail adventures, he has been challenging himself to become a better person and grow through experience. He looks forward to many decades more of adventure and challenge.

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