Embrace The Suck
Updated: Apr 25
It's military slang that means to consciously accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable for forward progress.
If I'm being honest, I'm more of an "embrace the fun" kind of guy. But right now we all find ourselves knee deep in some heavy-duty suck. As always, we have a choice. We can wallow in it or we can embrace it. So this morning I drove off to a local trailhead, strapped on the backpack, laced up the boots and leaned into some serious suck in the form of four miles of steep muddy trails. It, you guessed it, sucked. I was spent, completely soaked with sweat and more than a little sore. But, I accomplished something. Was it earth-shattering? No. Was it needed? Yes.
While I was hiking I thought back to some of my previous backpacking adventures. I remembered my first "real" backpacking trip. Myself and two college buddies piled into and old Ford Ranger one June and drove twenty four hours straight to Rocky Mountain National Park to explore the wilds. Everything we could ever need strapped to our backs. Nothing in front of us but peaks and trails. This trip provided my first glimpse into suck embracing and also my first hint at my own mortality. First, let me say that blue jeans, cotton t-shirts/shorts, and a windbreaker paired with a pair of Nike "hiking boots" probably stacked the cards against me from the beginning. A few other things of note. It rains in the Rocky Mountains in June. A lot actually. Ascending a 13,000 plus foot mountain as fast as you can when you are from Michigan can cause you to not feel well (see altitude sickness). A three- man backpacking tent is very small. VERY. Especially when all of you are wet (that rain thing) and one of your buddies has to frequently exit the tent for emergencies (that altitude thing).
We ended up cutting that trip a little short as some serious weather started to roll in on day four. I can still remember hiking out on the ridge line soaking wet. Hail pelting my face as jeans chaffed my legs and thunder shook my entire body with lightning flashing all too damn close. I could almost read the headlines: Three Michigan Youths Die From Stupidity and Unchecked Testosterone. It sucked. But you know what else? It was amazing. Because I also remember incredible mountain sunsets, wildlife I had never experienced, sliding down snow-covered cliffs on our backpacks, and brilliant trout swimming in glassy mountain lakes. Time outside with my buddies. Experiences that have fostered a life-long love for mountains, trails, and trout.
I remembered another backpacking trip. This time to New Hampshire's Presidential Range. Two different buddies, similar results. It was September and a hurricane had worked its way up the coast and parked right over top of us for the entire trip. I'm here to tell you, Colorado rain has got NOTHING on New Hampshire rain either in terms of intensity or in terms of volume. I have never been that continually wet for that long in my life. It was miserable. My hands and feet looked like prunes. At any given time you could wring out my clothing and fill buckets. And the New Hampshire definition of "trails" seemed to include sheer granite faces, which happen to get ridiculously slippery when wet. Did I mention the rain? But I also remember summiting Mount Washington (the hard way), among a lifting fog and being amazed at the sheer ruggedness surrounding us. I remember mountainside perches among others that shared the same love of the outdoors. I remember hilarious border crossing debacles and I vividly remember the steak and martini I had after we hiked out.
A few years back I attempted to put some "guiding values" down in writing for myself. I'll be the first to admit that I don't always hit these values as squarely as I'd like. Sometimes I even lose sight of them completely. And they are by no means perfect, but today they felt especially relevant despite their simplicity.
First, Choose Adventure– intentionally choose opportunities for adventure and when life offers multiple paths, choose the most adventurous.
Second, Invest In Relationships That Matter– spend your time, energy, emotion and money on the relationships in your life that matter and spend heavily.
Last, Grow Every Day– find ways to improve yourself mentally, physically and emotionally every day.
In these challenging days we should, more than ever, embrace the suck while remembering the things that are truly important.
We can still choose adventure. Even if that means strapping on the pack and hitting some local trails. Dig out that fly rod and hit the river. Grab the dog and take a long walk in the woods, with no agenda. Check out a new spot on a map, just because.
And we can still invest in those important relationships. Call that relative you haven't talked to in forever. Hug your kids. Show your significant other some grace. Remind your friends how important they are to you. Especially now.
And last, we can certainly still find ways to grow. Dust off that book you've been meaning to finish. Learn to play chess or the banjo or croquet. Try your hand at writing or cooking or woodworking. Get outside and use your body. In the woods. In the river. In your yard. And find the fortitude to embrace the suck.
None of us can control the current situation but we can control how we react to it, knowing it is unavoidable for forward progress.