Submitted Date 04/10/2019

“You can do hard things.”


My dad tells me that often. I’m just a lazy teenager who is apt to think, “that’s so hard, just let me opt into the easier way,” and it drives him nuts. Why would I take another class when I only need one more credit to graduate? Why wake up early when I don’t need to be anywhere until 9? Why do anything difficult that is not 100% necessary? I have the option to sit back and live comfortably, so why not elect to do so?


Well, I heard some wise words from a bearded man just earlier today, lounging comfortably in a lawn chair, cigarette in mouth: “If you don’t have any discomfort in life, how do you know when you feel good?”. Of course, I didn’t hear these words in person. I was watching a documentary about one Mr. Gary “Laz” Cantrell, the man behind the Barkley Marathons, which is known to be the most grueling footrace on planet Earth. Broken into five 20 miles runs within Frozen Head State Park, Tennesse, the race covers some insanely rough terrain complete with steep inclines and river crossings. Since its start in 1985, only 14 people have successfully finished the Barkley Marathons, and those that did surely thought they were going to die.


While hundreds of people are dying on the trail, “Laz” sits in his chair with a smile on his face. Why is he so happy at others’ expenses? Does he not know how miserable these people are? Is he some sort of sadist that enjoys others’ pain? How is he such a jolly guy?


He certainly understands the struggle the racers are going through. His joy comes not from their pain, but from what he knows that pain will turn them into. “Laz” knows that nothing great has come easy. Good? Sure. But great? Exceptional? The most incredible payouts always come from the most difficult challenges. That’s what makes it so rewarding, after all. Everyone that comes off that trail, completed or not, gave their all. They persevered, and from that perseverance they grew into stronger humans. That’s why “Laz” is so pleased with what he has happening with the Barkley Marathons – he’s building character and strength. Every single racer that so much as set foot on that trail and gave their all have done something more than most, and that experience will benefit them forever.


Some of my most notable character-building experiences also come from trails. As a big hiker, I’ve tackled a fair share of difficult trails myself, and I can say that they have been some of the most physically and mentally strenuous endeavors I have ever set out on. I’d be lying if I said they all pay off immediately, but they’ve all been rewarding in the end – even if that simply means a good workout. The most recent trail I did is the perfect example of this. I decided to hike it far too late in the season (the Wasatch Range here in Utah is still covered in snow, now thawing), so what would have typically been fairly traversable with snowshoes and/or crampons began a cold, wet mess of deep slush. The fact that we were attempting one of the steepest, most difficult trails did not help things.


The slipping, sinking, and sliding that was initially played off as a laugh soon became very irritating and was making the trail to be much more difficult than it should have. The gear that was supposed to help us in the wintery terrain became dead weight, and the length of the trail seemed to double. The more elevation we gained, the steeper the trail became, some points being nearly vertical. As we began to rise above the canyon and ascend into the tallest peaks of the Wasatch, we slowly became engulfed in the clouds. This limited our visibility to about 15-20 feet in front of us, and it quickly became frigid, us having shed layers due to it being very warm at the bottom.


Then came the snowfall and the wind. What I had been looking forward to as a wonderful hiking experience had become misery. My drained body throbbed, I had been plighted by a headache, I was freezing (honestly, about numb at this point), and my will was broken. My buddy was fantastic at keeping us going forward, but there were moments when I just wanted to say “alright, enough. Let’s head back,” or even just lay down to be left. Perhaps it was foolish to continue in those conditions, but our teenage egos were not going to allow us to start a trail and not finish it. So we continued.


And continued.


And continued.


It seemed like an eternity. By now I had realized: Hell is not brimstone and fire – it’s this damned, frozen, infinite white void that we were experiencing. I had never experienced white like this before. We could see the prints in front of us, but that was it. After our endless climbing in this vast expanse of sheer white, we came to a stone wall upon which we sat and brooded in our defeat.


Then the skies cleared just enough for us to make out Sundial Peak a few hundred yards ahead of us, and we understood that we had made it to our destination, though we could not appreciate the scenery that was hidden from us. The fog then resumed, and we began the journey home after some much-needed rest.


The descent back into the canyon was much more tolerable, and the clouds finally cleared, allowing for some sublime views. But we never got to experience the destination that we had so miserably sought. So what did I gain from this experience, besides a good story? A knowledge as simple as those reaffirming words used so often by my dad: “you can do hard things”.


There are more challenges to life than climbing some mountains (of course, not everyone enjoys that as much as others). It’s easy to want to avoid these mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical challenges simply because they are uncomfortable – because they don’t allow us to have what we want to have immediately. But remember that the longer, more difficult the journey is, the greater the reward, even if that reward is the experience of the journey, just like I never got to see what was hidden between those peaks. And don’t be reluctant to get help. We are not meant to do everything alone. Sometimes all you need is someone to be there to say “you can do it”. Because you can.

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  • Tomas Chough 2 years, 6 months ago

    Great message. Couldn't agree more. I've learned in these past few years exactly this. I was the teenager you described in the begging, and kept thinking that way for a long time. Now I'm the opposite. Doing the hard thing is so important for personal growth. Pushing ourselves and breaking our own limits brings us results we never could expect. Also, we're all human. If one person can do something then so can the rest (unless it's physically impossible or something like that of course). Great experience, lesson and story. Btw, my dad would say the same things to me when I was younger. Thanks for sharing Jared!

  • Miranda Fotia 2 years, 6 months ago

    Great motivational piece! Thanks for sharing!