Committed to Exploration

Air Canada. Knowledge Engineer. 1987. Hot Stuff. The renowned and perspicacious author sitting in the next seat looks at me sharply: “You have a problem with commitment”. Hmm. Maybe I’m not so hot.

Ten years later. Varig. Strategy innovation consultant. The mission: transform a staid company in a staid industry into an innovation dragon. Young kids at home. Mission in Sao Paulo, twelve months. Weekly commute to Brazil. Whatever it takes. I know commitment.

My commitment lives in the vast ringworld between panic and comfort. It is fueled with the wonder of learning and rewarded with new mastery. It is mission-centric. It is about discovery of self and of new worlds. I have lived my commitment at NASA and the Space Shuttle; at my former company, Strategos, and the abstract exploration of new strategies and organizational missions; and in ultrarunning, and the concrete exploration of hostile environments at speed and lightly equipped.

Ten years later, near the Susitna River, north of Anchorage. The Susitna 100 is about to start, my first winter ultra. I am here to run it. It is my last chance to choose the equipment that will be with me, in my trusty sled. Too much, and the weight will bleed my endurance quickly. Too little, and something I will not be ready for will force my evacuation.

Time for anxiety and stress to end. The gun goes off. Uncertainty is gone. The mission has started. Learning has started. Crushing burdens and ecstatic moments follow wave after wave. All my water frozen at 3am in -25C after getting lost twice. The magic peeter-patter of two dog teams running on the Susitna River in the dark. Then, during the long, low Alaskan winter sunrise, I hit mile 90. I know I will finish. The celebration starts now and will go on for a long, long time. Mission success. Much learned. Exquisite, subtle, and brutal beauty. Deep human bonding. Time to rest.

A few years later. Two weeks to the Yukon Arctic Ultra. 300 miles. Deep Winter. Small sled. 180 hours. Anxiety. Unknown. Cold. Injury? Hundreds of miles of training behind. The enormity of the task looms larger and larger. I have struggled to stay true to a long, hard buildup. My running music brings back my visualizations. I know the moment that gun goes off, I will finally relax and smile. I will be committed.

The edge of the envelope is much thicker than you think. Come out. Go to your Arctic, your Moon, your Mars, your Europa. And bring back your stories.

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