Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Birthday Challenge

Though I could pass for 21, and still get carded regularly, I just celebrated my 31st trip around the sun. I got some good natured insults from my younger friends in their twenties and words from my Mother to the effect of, “I can’t believe I have a 31 year old son.”

Reflecting on that wave of life that takes us from the twenties to the thirties I am glad I got to this point; and after surviving all the heartache and trial and tribulations of the twenties, sometimes I feel like every day is a bonus.

Motivation flows through me now at a more consistent rate than it did in my younger years, and thus, I had to celebrate my 31st birthday, with a Birthday Challenge.

The Birthday Challenge is simple, yet genius: doing things you love in increments of the age you are at. My challenge this year involved my three favorite sports: running, biking and rock climbing. I feel this challenge gives special meaning to one’s day of birth, allows time for reflection on life –what has past and what lies ahead, and inspires others to create birthday challenges for themselves.

Perhaps the most essential element to a birthday challenge is your friends who join you on the mission, or support from afar. They know the challenge that you have set out and they keep you going with motivation throughout the day.

The day started out with my dumpster-dived radio alarm blasting news on Obama’s plan for the Afghanistan war. I arose, layered up, had some coffee and a kiwi, motivated my friend and roommate Brittney and we laced up our running shoes and headed out the door. The running was a shock to the body, and I set my sights on simply keeping up with Brittney. We ran towards Western State then up in the hills behind the college: my alma mater, my place of work and the place responsible for much of the growth that has made me who I am today.

We ran up and down the trails amongst the sage, looking over Gunnison. A full moon proudly showed itself to the west. The running was brutal, but after 20 minutes I found pleasure in it. As we ran back to our house, after 31 minutes, I looked at Brittney, her exposed hair was white and frozen. As we passed the bank on the way to breakfast the temperature read 3 degrees.

At my favorite restaurant in Gunny, the Firebrand, we warmed up. Another friend Ron, joined us for breakfast, and eventually he and Brittney left for work. I sat and wrote down 31 things that I am thankful for, in the middle sending a text to my friend Shaun, who introduced me to the Birthday Challenge, after 25 rock climbs on his 25th birthday in Joshua Tree, California. Later, Heidi, one of the owners of the Firebrand handed me a piece of paper with a prompt: What have I learned in the last year?

Here’s a sample:

As one gets older, you still have to dance and get wild and express yourself.

I hope to get married someday.

We still need to write letters, especially to Grandma.

Jay Z is still bad-ass.

There is so much more to learn.

You have got to love the lovers, and dismiss the haters.

A walk by the bank revealing single digit temps. and the nip in the air proved my next mission would be cold: 31 miles on my road bike. This was a solo mission, as my main road bike partner, Ben, was out of town. I’m one of those people that thrives on just the right amount of personal time and solitude, so I welcomed the time alone.

Winter road riding walks a fine line of being enjoyable or just miserable, and my ride represented both feelings. Reflective thoughts ran through my head as I passed the familiar terrain of Highway 135 and then Taylor Canyon. Freezing temperatures ran through my feet as my toes turned numb, and my Camelback’s hose froze up. It was cold and beautiful, and when I arrived back in Gunnison I was happy that segment of the challenge was completed.

The midday challenge was an important meeting with my supervisor at work. New to the area she looked at me with a mixture of fascination and a ‘is this guy crazy’ glance. After a cup of coffee with a friend I set out with my support crew for the next mission, and headed out to Hartman Rocks.

Shane and Al were essential to this piece of the challenge: 31 boulder problems. The wind and the cold aimed to throw my psyche off, but these guys balanced out the elements with some good old fashioned camaraderie. As I completed one boulder problem (a short rock climb without ropes) Al would give me his coat and gloves and Shane would grab the crashpad and move to the next climb. The climbing was brutal, my fingers turned numb after a couple problems, and my feet suffered the same feeling crammed into my climbing shoes.

“They wouldn’t call it a challenge if it was easy,” we said a few times. After 20 climbs the sun was setting, and we realized the challenge would have to end at the climbing gym at Western State.

This was by far, physically, the easiest part of the challenge, it was relatively warm, and safe, and mentally I was on cruise-control. Socially it was more difficult, as my youngster climbing friends were giving me a hard time, “31 you’re getting old. Soon you’re going to be using a walker.”

I took the comments as affection, as I’m sure they meant it, and completed the challenge amongst the hustle and bustle of the 20 some climbers at the gym. A small gathering of friends followed at my house, with gifts of cards and beer.

The physicality of the challenge set in, with the high that accompanies that, and the worn-out feeling of being out in the cold all day. Surrounded by friends, I felt grateful with the three that had helped me with my challenge. My idea would have been merely an idea without their support and motivation.

Later one friend in her twenties gave a big speech about how it was my birthday and a full moon and that I should go out to the bars and live it up. My thoughts and aspirations were all connected with my bed and sleep. After around 31 minutes of convincing all my friends to leave without me, I drifted off into the cosmos. I’d completed a dream and a vision and it was fulfilling, and dedicated to health, fitness, friendship, and celebrating another trip around the sun. Ready and all psyched up for another year.

Check the link below to Al's video of the bouldering challenge:


Al Smith said...

Dude. Lovely...just lovely. Your writing improves micrometers every time I swear. Perhaps link the video on youtube to your blog? Word. Peace, Love.


Brian Malone said...

UHH! yea man good job. I think I'll help you spread the birthday challenge tradition (starting with myself). My birthday present to you is that I'm going to start writing in this here blog once again starting at christmas when I get my own working computer. Well, that and a hopilicious the next time I come to town of course. Hopefully sooner then later.

Lisa G said...

Luke, I am always inspired by your writing. Lovely peice. It has got me ruminating on my own birthday challenge.

Blog Archive