Learning Curve: Learning to Suffer
Jan 12, 2021 at 4:13 pm #3693510Backpacking LightAdmin
@backpackinglightLocale: Rocky Mountains
BPL Columnist Maggie Slepian unpacks suffering.Jan 12, 2021 at 4:43 pm #3693514Jason McSpaddenBPL Member
@jbmcsr1Locale: Rocky Mountains
Our word “passion” comes from the Latin word “pati” or “patior” which means to suffer or to endure. In that I think there’s a tremendous depth to explore.
Thank you for the article Maggie.Jan 12, 2021 at 6:05 pm #3693522
Words are important. While reading this article, I am pretty sure that I understand the authors intent and meaning. That being said, I do take issue with the word “suffering: the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”. IMO, a lot of growth comes from overcoming obstacles and barrier. It is thinking about a problem and coming up with alternative solutions and keeping the end goal in mind. While hiking a 233 mile trail and only having 40 miles being free of foot pain does not seem like it has the end in mind: enjoying the trip (?). Would it not have been better to re-group and determine the source of the foot pain? Training, proper equipment, the right technique? Isn’t the goal to learn and strive for continuous improvement?
IMO, the learning curve is learning what works and what doesn’t work and this is an investment in time and energy. Most of us did not jump into UL Backpacking by doing a long distance through hike. We test our bounds, make adjustments and learn from our mistakes. We develop tribal knowledge, and some share it with others. I think that pushing oneself out of there comfort zone is a good thing as we often can do a lot more that we think that we are capable of. IMO, using suffering has limited usage in getting up the learning curve. Telling people to “gut it out” has to potential to drive people beyond reasonable limits without caution. There are prime examples of people who thought that they were just “gutting it out” and ended up in trouble, injured or even death. My 2 centsJan 12, 2021 at 6:13 pm #3693523DanBPL Member
To each his/her own, but personally I can’t relate to this attitude in the context of backpacking. Sure, you need to suffer to set a personal best in a marathon (or ultra), but for me, backpacking is about enjoying the experience and my surroundings, not whether (or how quickly) I can complete an arbitary number of miles on a particular trail.
I have plenty of other opportunities to suffer, backpacking is my escape.Jan 12, 2021 at 6:34 pm #3693525Philip TschersichBPL Member
@philip-akLocale: Kodiak Alaska
[The pain] ranged from pounding soreness to blisters that made me shriek when half of my heel skin peeled off with my socks. I spent one evening picking crusted blood and pus from my socks so I could wear them the next day.
I have traveled thousands of miles through the Alaskan Wilderness and have experienced my share of suffering as a result. Almost all of it due to environmental discomforts (hot, cold, wet, etc.), unrelenting aerobic exertion, or physical or mental fatigue. I simply cannot relate to what Maggie is describing. I’m a backcountry traveler, not a masochist.Jan 12, 2021 at 7:59 pm #3693534AK GranolaBPL Member
I have never been an athlete and I don’t see myself as one, nor do I see other backpackers as athletes. We’re outdoors people! Or as my kids and their friends say, “granolas.” I suppose those that do the FKTs and whatnot are technically athletes, but I don’t really care much about their successes; by that I mean I’m indifferent, not opposed. I’m not out there for the reasons they are. HYOH.
So reading this article didn’t mean much to me. I’ve had to quit before, and that’s ok. More important to me is what I did, not what I didn’t do. I enjoyed hiking by myself, and crossing rivers and climbing Donahue pass. I watched birds and butterflies and looked at flowers. I learned the trees along the way. I watched the stars and the Milky way and the moon come up over mountains. Despite the suffering it was a great trip, but it was time to end it (altitude sickness). I hiked through rain, and hail and lightning. We all have to put up with this stuff, but it’s not really heroic; it’s just part of the deal. I have had blisters as bad as Maggie describes though; leather boots! yuck. Never again.
Suffering is indeed part of being outdoors. We have warm homes, soft beds, and hot meals because they’re pleasurable, and if that’s all you’ve ever known, a first backpack trip can be tough. Hopefully it’s not all type 3 fun or you might never go again! I’m glad my parents raised me to be outdoors a lot, so that beestings, mosquito bites, rain and snow, wind and cold, and a lump under the sleeping bag are not insurmountable obstacles. But enjoyment is the reason, and for me that’s not being the 13,000th person to do a trail end to end; it’s being in the beauty that is out there.Jan 12, 2021 at 9:13 pm #3693541
I enjoyed this article. Thanks Maggie. I haven’t done any through hikes but I can relate to the “sticking with it” in many other ways. I think that the more practice we have with it, the more we can stay the course next time around. So good for you and thanks for contributing to the site!Jan 12, 2021 at 9:37 pm #3693542Ryan JordanAdmin
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
Sometimes I tackle things that are near my limits and I expect to suffer. I felt like Maggie’s intent is something different than speaking to this situation, and thus, she’s probably not speaking to those of us/you who do willfully seek a little suffering on a fast or long or hard hike.
I think for most backpackers, suffering is what we want to avoid. But eventually, even with the best intentions, you’ll encounter conditions that were more challenging than expected, and there will be some suffering involved. To that end, how you respond to and learn from that suffering – that’s where personal growth can really shine. To this end, Maggie, thanks for the article. It inspired me, once I spent a little time to think about different ways to approach the topic of suffering.Jan 12, 2021 at 10:20 pm #3693548Dave HeissBPL Member
@daveheissLocale: Pacific Northwest
The longest continuous time I’ve ever been out backpacking was 20 days, doing ~150 miles of the Skyline trail in Oregon (long time ago, like 1978). Pack was heavy, boots hurt, bugs were bad, fishing was terrible, meals were on the meager side because we hadn’t calculated the portions right, my car broke a timing belt on the drive up so my 2 friends and I had to hitchhike/walk to the trailhead and then figure out afterwards how to get back to the repair shop where my car was waiting… so yeah, I can relate.
There was a fair bit of suffering on that trip, but it faded. My memories now are how great the trip was. We dealt with adversity as it came and kept moving forward. The scenery was awesome, we got deeply into the ebb and flow of the mountains, and to this day I still crave the joyful feeling of immersion in wilderness that I first felt on that trip.
Suffering happens, despite our best efforts to escape it. That’s OK. Without some suffering, how can we fully appreciate Joy?Jan 13, 2021 at 9:50 am #3693566W I S N E R !Spectator
I understand the intent of the article and we all obviously have different thresholds for when “pushing through” is worth it or not. To each their own, I cast no judgement there. If the author believes she got something out of these experiences (and she obviously has!), more power to her.
I’ve been involved in my share of ultra distance events on foot and bike, I understand the concept of “suffering” in this context quite well. But in recent years I’ve become troubled with the use of this particular term. Granted, we’re playing semantics here, but as Jon said above, I do believe words matter.
Given the various forms of suffering taking place in this world, I question whether it’s an appropriate term for something being done for recreation and entertainment, activities that are ultimately quite frivolous. I’ve tried to stop using the term in favor of “challenging myself” or similar. This has nothing to do with signaling others, it’s about what I believe is creating a healthier personal narrative behind seeking out challenging wilderness experiences. It’s about shifting from an adversarial mindset to something more peaceful.
We all go through progressions. I’m certainly not saying my experiences should be used as some sort of measure. So again, speaking only for myself here, the type of “suffering” mentioned here may be valuable in a certain context, namely having a reserve of knowing that you are capable of pushing through bad things. But I have been there and most certainly know that during long, painful, grinding events, I often completely missed the forest for the trees. Not to mention the fact I’ve done some irreparable damage to myself in the process. Whereas showing the blood, blisters, and wounds used to be some sort of badge of honor- perhaps rite of passage- I think I’m largely over seeking it out for its own sake.
While I still enjoy challenging myself, at age 44 I’m looking further ahead to how I might achieve longevity in the outdoor sports I love, not scoring points in what (for me) often amounted to chest-thumping contests with my own ego.Jan 13, 2021 at 10:45 am #3693572Tipi WalterBPL Member
MANAGING DISCOMFORT—I coined this term years ago as a definition of Backpacking.
Recently BPL.com had an interesting article—
In the “What’s Challenging” section the authors puts PAIN at the top of the list. “Constant Exposure” is also listed but then isn’t constant exposure a component of all backpacking trips??
And winter backpacking is all about fighting the cold, i.e. suffering. “It’s all about the hands and feet” describes winter backpacking. And when it’s below 0F packing large objects into tiny bags can be painful—for me the hardest part of winter backpacking is packing up everything in the morning before shoving off.Jan 13, 2021 at 11:01 am #3693575AK GranolaBPL Member
I like the word suffering, as defined: “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.” There are many degrees of suffering, and those incurred in recreation are optional; life imposes its own non-optional suffering. Although, my old yoga guru used to say, “there’s the pain of doing yoga, and the pain of not doing yoga.” I think that can apply here, to the suffering we opt into in backpacking.
As several have mentioned, aging adds an element of “suffering” some of us are surprised by, even though we’ve been around older folks who let us know their problems; somehow most of us are not really prepared for our turn. I certainly can’t say I was prepared for how suddenly those ailments appeared, and also dismayed to learn that they will never go away, as they used to in my younger years.Jan 13, 2021 at 12:01 pm #3693589HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: The West is (still) the Best
Tend avoid suffering as I get older actually, but think one should be prepared to use any as a learning experience, .. maybe a little perverse enjoyment (“yay, I survived!!”). Think I’ve done alright by minding weather forecasts/knowing historical climate, lightening my pack weight, fixing my clothes/footwear before I head out, and avoiding most (but not all) young people’s music. Waking up cold after a humid damp night flattens down is never much fun.
Being out longer exposes a backpacker to more of the first two, but then there is usually a “resupply“ every week to catch a forecast, get new footwear, etc … Also other hikers on a long trail are more than happy to share news of upcoming apocalyptic weather and their views on gear to fix what ails you.
One thing I noticed on the PCT in 2017 (a very high snow year after everyone went “lightwt/ultralight” gearwise) is younger hikers looked at the challenge of conquering the snow at higher elevations while the more experienced were already making alternate plans (almost all made alternate plans after a few days of continuous post-holing btw as food and batteries were burned up at double the normal rate).
When younger there were athletic contests and military training, but the good of muscle soreness needs to be weighed against injuring one’s synovial joints sooner or later.
Organ systems usually don’t improve with age.Jan 13, 2021 at 12:28 pm #3693594Tipi WalterBPL Member
One thing that changed for me in “old age” is I started carrying Hot Hands warming packets in the winter. On my upcoming January 2021 trip I’ll have 7 of them stowed away in the pack—a total of 14 heating pouches. I used to curse the things (often left as trailside trash by idiots) but once I hit 69 and age 70 I really like them. It seems the older I get the more challenged I am by the cold.
Another concession is stepping much more carefully to avoid falling esp on rugged trails. Most especially true when carrying a 21 day pack load.Jan 13, 2021 at 1:25 pm #3693603BC BobBPL Member
@bcbobLocale: Vancouver Island
The Stoic philosophers wrote about how to view hardship and suffering thousands of years ago. Jump to 4:15 and again to 14:00 if you don’t want to watch the whole video, . (PS. For blisters, Leukotape would be a big improvement over bandaids).Jan 13, 2021 at 2:15 pm #3693610Kevin BabioneBPL Member
I appreciate all of the other posts where people nicely said that suffering like that isn’t why they go backpacking. I read the article shortly after it posted and immediately thought that I would have bailed on that hike after 50-60 miles. Since i only get 3-4 trips a year I really want them to be as enjoyable as possible.
I bailed on a hike once halfway through because I had foot pain. I was wearing new boots (Innov-8) that I REALLY wanted to like. I had taken them on a couple of day hikes without any issues, but wearing them all day and doing 14 miles was different. They were too narrow for my wide feet (I hear Roger in my head). I didn’t have anything to prove to anybody so when I hit a road I hitched back to my car and learned a lesson.Jan 13, 2021 at 3:00 pm #3693620BlackHatGuySpectator
@sleepingLocale: The Cascades
“I didn’t have anything to prove to anybody… “
This is a recurring theme, not just here but elsewhere (not picking on you Kevin!), but I think (much like packing your fears) that it’s, intentional or not, a pretty arrogant view. I think many people who do painful endurance events and such aren’t trying to prove anything to anybody, except perhaps themselves, and I think that’s okay, even positive. But when we use the phrase we’re kinda inferring that anyone who does crazy stuff that WE wouldn’t do is just some narcissist trying to prove something to everybody else.Jan 13, 2021 at 3:01 pm #3693621Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Southern Indiana
Any suffering I go through whilst backpacking isn’t intentional, but rather it’s an inherent result of the activity itself . Self flagellation’s not for me. I do a lot of SUL 3 day/night trips in warmer weather and of course a much lighter sleep pad is needed in order to get the weight down low enough. It’s not as comfortable to sleep on a small torso length pad, however, to me the worst form of suffering is carrying a heavy pack, and that’s why I’m on this website really. Yes, the suffering brought on by heavy packs is the main reason I obsess over shedding grams. I don’t like to suffer and I didn’t like it when I was a young lark either. A lot of traditional backpackers tend to look at ultralighters and think of us as masochists, yet I’ll argue it’s they who are the gluttons for pain by slogging along with their heavy packs. Of course getting stupid light brings misery and I’ve experienced it by misjudging how warm of a sleeping bag to bring along.
HEAVY PACK = SUFFERINGJan 13, 2021 at 3:53 pm #3693627
Learning Curve: Learning to Suffer
Can you imagine taking your S.O. or children on a trip with the mantra that dealing with suffering is a method of getting up the learning curve? That is probably a not a good motivational tool. Can you image your manager giving you an assignment and told you that this task needs to be done, but you will go through a lot of suffering but will come out better for it? See you, bye. Words matter. IMO, using suffering as a learning tool is the wrong answer. Again, the article seems to promote hiking a plus 200 mile trip with foot pain for ¾ of the trip ended up as a positive experience. I don’t get it, I guess that it is HYOH.
As an individual, yes I have pushed on through muscle fatigue and body aches. Usually it is because of unplanned events, changes in conditions or sub-optimal decision making. My bad, but I pay the cost for that. I have also bailed on trips where the potential suffering was greater than the potential reward. I planned a trip to 4 Pass Loop. I live as 1,400 feet and was too busy to train and prepare for the trip. I hit the first pass (12k’) and realized that I was exhausted. Due to my bad planning decided to bail rather than tough it through the next 3 days. Learning Curve? I need to build up strength and stamina in before taking on a similar hike. 4 Pass Loop will still be there and I will be better prepared to enjoy the trip. My 2 centsJan 13, 2021 at 4:52 pm #3693636
Suffering is a word and means different things to different people at different times. No one has the monopoly on it. I honestly do not understand how this one word is controversial at all here.Jan 13, 2021 at 5:16 pm #3693639
It might help to look at the context /or tittle from a 10,000 perspective
Learning Curve – the rate of a person’s progress in gaining experience or new skills.
Suffer – the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.
Words matter. There are many ways to progress up the learning curve. As a backpacker, lecture and a program manager, using suffering as a tool strikes a very negative tone with me. IMO, it would have been better for the article to focus on the lessons learned, continous improvement and forward progress. When I read this article, it almost comes across as someone who is almost bragging about enduring foot pain over a long distance hike. What was the lesson learned? With mental toughness, you can overcome incredible pain? Without the right practice, training or equipment you can hurt yourself? As a writer, your goal is to have the reader understand your message. Learning Curve and Suffering didn’t cut it for me. I guess that it is HYOH. My 2 cents.Jan 13, 2021 at 5:40 pm #3693640
Words matter as much as we decide we know THE definition and expect everyone else to use it to our standard.
To bicker on the meaning of a word sounds absurd to me . People cannot even agree of the definition of the word “word” ( give it a go).
A linguist.Jan 13, 2021 at 8:11 pm #3693666BlackHatGuySpectator
@sleepingLocale: The Cascades
“Don’t kid yourself, people reading the thread see right through it.”
I think transparency is a good thing.Jan 13, 2021 at 8:59 pm #3693673Tom KBPL Member
“much like packing your fears”
Why is that arrogant?Jan 13, 2021 at 9:18 pm #3693682Tom KBPL Member
For me, there is no glory in pain. I usually take it as a signal that I have not prepared myself for the demands of an endeavor, be it an ambitious backpacking trip, a challenging race, or whatever. There are times when it has just been the luck of the draw-wrong time/wrong place, but those have been the exception. Whether or not I choose to forge ahead, or retreat, is a tactical decision based on desire, potential long term harm, the likelihood of conditions improving, and past experience with similar situations, of which there have been many at this point in my life. In almost every situation I can remember where I found myself having moved along the continuum from the kind of discomfort that is inherent in strenuous physical activities to pain as a sign that something has gone seriously awry, I have ended up facing decisions that have led to a better understanding of myself and enhanced my judgment/wisdom. One thing is certain: I am a far different backpacker from the raw novice who first ventured into The Sierra in 6 pound Kastinger mountaineering boots and a pair of Levis. Others will have a different take, but that has been my journey.
Interesting thread, complete with a whiff of CHAFF to spice it up.
Some things never change. ;0)
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