Friday, January 13, 2006

Because it's there

When George Mallory was asked "Why climb Mt. Everest", he uttered the now famous words "Because it's there".

I had a very interesting discussion with my wife the other day, about why people climb mountains, go on polar expeditions or on any other "pointless" endeavors, as she put it. I have to admit, she had a good set of arguments. She pointed out the obvious dangers associated with it and how egocentric it is to embark on these missions. "What about the ones you leave at home, hoping for your safe return?" she asked.

I did my best to explain the pure simplicity of climbing Mt. Everest or trekking to the North Pole. How it is about exploring oneself and pushing the limits as far as humanly possible. How it's the stuff of legends, lore and religion. All I got was a blank stare and a "huh?" in return.

And quite frankly, I think that if you have to ask "Why climb Mt. Everest", chances are you will never really, truly understand why.

If you stop and think about it, there are many philosophical parallels that can be drawn between these endeavors and cycling. Have you ever asked yourself "why do I bother?" or "what's the point?". Why the heck do we willingly dedicate ourselves so utterly to cycling?

There is an expression called "The 24 hour athlete", which simply means that to achieve as much as possible, the rider needs to dedicate himself fully to the task at hand. Not only for the 1-6 hours of training per day, but for the whole 24 hours that day. It's more than a hobby or a job, it's a lifestyle.

You may say "that's only for the pros, I don't do that". But stop and think about it - I bet you sacrifice more than you realize. From diet, recovery and time management - we are willing to put the sport ahead of almost anything else. For what? Why do it?

Why do seemingly normal people spend their vacation racing a bike across the American Continent? Or race a MTB for 24 hours with minimal sleep. Why do these crazy Iron Men act like 13 year old girls when they realize they have qualified for Kona? For most of them, it's not their job, it's not something they have to do. As Abraham Maslow would have put it "it's not a physiological need or even a safety need".

From a pure physical point of view, these activities really only give you pain and suffering in return for your effort. And mentally you are reduced to a babbling maniac at the end. Not to mention the countless hours you have spent preparing for this suffering. Hours filled with pain as well. So why do it? Why not sit on the sofa, eat popcorn and watch a poorly produced Hollywood B-movie instead?

I can't answer these questions for you, of course. But, if you are anything like me - it about what Maslow called "self actualization".

It's about the utter simplicity. How you yourself can shape and control the outcome. It's about discovering how far you can push your body, exploring the limits. In effect, I'm my own little lab-experiment. I don't know the outcome yet, maybe I never will. But it's just as much about the journey to the top as it is about reaching the top, if in fact I ever will. So why push for the top? Because it's there.


Blogger Keith said...

Great post Mags!


Blogger mags said...

Thank you, Keith.


Anonymous jeffd said...

Look you said and I've heard Ed Viesturs say to the question "why?", the simple answer is: "If you have to ask, you will never know." I think that's a pretty accurate answer to questions like this.

Everyone has different personal reasons but I think for some the struggle is worth the reward and others the struggle is the reward.

Wonderful post!!

Blogger Skibby said...

I have my own theories on why we do the things we do, as a matter of fact, I told my psychotherapist today that I want to climb Mt. Everest, base jump and I prefer to ride my bike on traffic filled roads, he didn't think I was crazy until I told him that...

Blogger mags said...


Ed Viesturs is a great climber, I think he was on the IMAX team in 1996. Thank you for the kind comments. Skibby - riding on busy roads is probably more dangerous than most things. Including climbing Everest.


Blogger Jill said...

Another great quote from George Mallory, from 1922:

"What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."

Two years later, he died on Mt. Everest. Do you really think, even in that moment, he would have taken it all back?

Blogger mags said...

Mallory knew the dangers associated with his sport. I'm convinced he accepted his faith and although nobody knows - I subscribe to the theory that he reached the summit and died on the decent (running out of O2).



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