I’m climbing a mountain. Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park. It’s a short 90-minute drive from Vancouver, heading north on the Sea-to-Sky Highway.
From the Rubble Creek parking lot, I start out in the trees. Wide easy walking eventually turns into switchbacks that seem to go on For-E-Ver.
Life is good
After 45 minutes I am starting to sweat and drink more water. It’s a steady incline but not difficult. I’m still pretty fresh, and need I say, fit. I’ve got friends with me. Life is good. My pack is filled with healthy snacks, and conversation bounces between everyone. I’m doing this for the joy of it.
I eventually emerge from the trees in the alpine. There’s the meadow and the lake. The sun is out. Glorious. There are more people on the trail now, and I can see where I’m headed. Black Tusk is a jagged wedge of volcanic rock that stands guard over some of most spectacular scenery in BC. Highest point: 7600 feet (2,319 meters).
Why am I doing this again? I forget
Climbing, climbing. I am 5 hours in, and not as fit as I thought I was. I notice other hikers on the trail are clearly enjoying this much much more than I am. Their gear is more expensive. They look tanned. They speak many languages. They’ve come from all over the world to climb the Tusk.
Scrambling up the scree to the base of the Tusk is hard. There’s sort of a trail but it’s mostly shale sliding every which way. I stick to the only path I can see. No shortcuts.
I’m also not talking much any more.
The lady in a pink running top who passed us an hour ago, just reached the base of the Tusk and she’s waving. So annoying. But the view must be amazing from up there so I feel a bit more motivated. I watch my feet because any second I might wipe out and take an entire party of tourists with me to the bottom.
I finally make it to the base of the Tusk and there’s a line. Seriously, there’s a lineup to get to the top. I can see a chimney, a channel in the rock, and there’s a rope there. You are supposed to grab onto that thing and haul your ass up.
One by one, everyone goes for it. And then it’s my turn.
One foot, the other, pull up. And up. Find a handle. Put my foot there, and there. The first part is totally exposed, but there’s no turning back.
Then I reach the chimney itself, a chute that at first looks easy to navigate. But then it narrows. And…
I look up and see the people who’ve already made it. They’re in the sun. Things must be way better up there.
Me? I’m stuck. Half way up the very last 20 feet.
5 ways to get unstuck (at sea level)
Middle life feels a bit like that. Stuck with the end in sight.
But as I’ve been learning, there is hope and getting unstuck is the first step. These five ways can help:
1. Practice doing things that are not your go-to skill
We all default to doing things we’re good at, which after a long time in one career, tends to be the same skillset over and over again.
I find this all the time with writing. Some days I think it’s the only thing I know how to do. When I’ve tried to push out in different directions, writing often ends up being the root skill anyway. This isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes you need to do things you suck at (but still enjoy). Why? Because the point is not mastery, proficiency, or even making money.
The point is following your curiosity.
2. Let go of your past vision
Consider that the reason you’re stuck is because you’re a control freak.
No, really. You planned your life to be a certain way. You planned, more or less, to have achieved certain things in education, career, child rearing, and mortgage paying. And, even though it hasn’t turned out that way, you’re still casting your line again and again hoping to catch the big one.
Time to try a different fishing spot.
3. Acknowledge that resistance is along for the ride
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield suggests you should prepare for battle every single day. Resistance, or fear, is the crabby boss that keeps you stuck in the basement.
Pressfield’s view on taking on resistance is not only about facing fear, but beating it back day after day. Elizabeth Gilbert has a gentler approach.
In Big Magic, she says ‘okay fear, you can come along along for the ride (here, have some Twizzlers), but you don’t get to drive, and you don’t get the map either.’
4. Get moving physically
Besides the obvious health benefits of an active lifestyle, physical activity can shakes ideas loose in your head. Your brain, specifically the corpus callossum, needs movement for information to get from the left side of your brain to the right and vice versa.
Some people need fidget, twirl a pencil, or toss a ball when they’re thinking. That counts. So why not give your brain a bigger boost with some real heart thrumming exercise.
5. Practice gratitude
Wait! Don’t roll your eyes. Gratitude is almost its own product category these days. You’ve seen the books, courses, retreats, and apps.
I couldn’t get into it (which means I’m either a truly ungrateful wretch or I have the sensitivity of a snail). I kept giving thanks for the same things over and over again, which while all true, got a bit boring. “I’m thankful for a loving husband. I’m thankful for my kids. I’m thankful for my health, etc.”
But then, thanks to my friend Lynn who put me on to Thank and Grow Rich by Pam Grout, I quit thinking about the big G Gratitude and more about acknowledging moments during the day when small things made me smile. Like texting with #son1 who recently moved out, squeezing one last dollop of conditioner out of the bottle, walking my dog at night in the rain. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
The magical effect of this practice is that it feels like you’re making progress somehow.
Progress = Unstuck.
Honest! It works.
Admittedly, these five strategies won’t help you get off a pile of rock at 7600 feet but they do have legitimate practical applications. I hope you give a few (or all) a try.
And by the way I did make it to the top of the Tusk. However, the rope I used to climb the final chimney those many years ago is sadly no longer there.
This video (not me) showcases the hike beautifully:
If you are interested in hiking Black Tusk, or any other hikes around Vancouver, check out these sites:
Have you ever felt stuck right at the finish line? What’s your tip for getting unstuck in the last mile, or the last twenty feet? Share in the comments.
Image: BragadorCommons by