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124-Crucibles, Misogi's and Eighty's Pop...

As excited as I was to hear the sound of The Scientist by Coldplay deep in my morning sleep, the Crucible has other plans… sinister plans for a man who loves every moment of cozy, outdoor sleep where your down bag hugs you warmly making the cool air that rushes over your face feel refreshing.  My alarm was set for 6:40am, Jason and I agreed that twenty minutes to crawl out of our bags and put on our shoes was a fair amount of time to walk the 30 yards to the check in table.  No, the Crucible was plotting to ruin any intentions of the 37 campers who had any plans to sleep past 6:10 as eighty’s pop music, suddenly and abruptly brought me (and I’m sure the other 36 individuals) to the reality that we were no longer in control of our comfort.


The Crucible was brought to my attention several months ago as Jason and I read through The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter.  The author’s rendition of his survival trip deep in the Alaskan wilderness revealed several problems with our comfort-based lifestyle in America, and what better way to act upon our newly identified issues than to go on a Misogi of our own.  The Japanese were on to something when they invented the Misogi and what it has morphed into today… just two rules:  make it really hard, and don’t die.  Jason and I trained for the Crucible, a 22-mile endurance hike in the woods with Misogi in mind.  The longest hike that I have ever done in one setting was 14 miles, with a 45-minute break in my hammock at mile 11.  I could barely walk for the next week as my body argued with the idea of me doing this to it ever again.


The air was a brisk 33 degrees Saturday in Michigan and the unprepared were more than chilled, waiting for the announcements to finish so we could get this party started.  Nearly 300 other brave or stupid souls (I’ll let you decide) joined us as we anxiously anticipated the next 6-12 hours out in the woods on the Waterloo/Pickney trail system.  There was no starting gun, just the rush of three waves of 100 people each crowding into the staging area to squeeze from a mob to a two-by-two line of ants, spread across the first mile of the trail.  Jason and I decided it would be better to start near the rear as it’s better to pass people if necessary than to be passed by people… we choose poorly, as the third wave was much slower than our practice hikes.


My thighs protested the steady movement this early in the morning as we cranked our way past nearly 100 hikers in the first hour.  I’ve never felt more like the hare in The Tortoise and the Hare tale than I did that morning.  Hurry up, stop and rest then get back on the trail before those you’ve passed catch up.  The funny thing is that The Crucible is not a race, it’s an opportunity for you to practice the art of the Misogi, to push yourself and see what your body can really do; oh, and don’t die.  When I look around at our culture, I see a lot of people who have settled into the physical comforts that it gladly offers us.  We are in temperature-controlled environments almost constantly, we often own a car for every driver in the family, as to avoid walking or riding a bike except for during the 30-minute time slot deemed “exercise” in our well-kept calendars.  We don’t like to be uncomfortable talking to strangers so we conveniently pull the super computer from our pocket and check something on it when in line at the grocery store, or better yet just order your life needs online and let Amazon bring it to you 24 hours later (if you can wait that long). And then there's the slightly paranoia option of tracking every movement of your purchase, following it to a picture of your porch and not your neighbors (because that would cause yet another uncomfortable conversation). I’m rambling truth with a sarcastic twinge for a reason—we need to embrace discomfort. 


My legs protested the first 11 miles of The Crucible, but as we pressed on Jason and I just talked about life.  There wasn’t anything else to distract us from the contracting muscles pulling on our tendons, mechanically advancing our progress; and I was just fine with that.  Boots did come off at mile 17 and basking in the sun on my face as I laid on my back for 25 minutes was rejuvenating for my morale, but not so much for my aching legs.  However, with only five miles to go the show must go on, the Misogi completed and the discomfort fully embraced.  Needless to say we finished and I earned my patch and BBQ sandwich—neither disappointed, however they are only reminders that quickly bring me back to the reality of my comfortable chair in front of my responsive computer where I tell you all about being uncomfortable.  Moral of the story then?  We live in the world we live in, but we don’t have to settle for the mindset that comfort is king.  Comfort doesn’t have to imprison you; you have the freedom to break free from its deception that all is well if it’s comfortable and do something to prove it otherwise.  For me it was hiking 22 miles in eight hours—what’s your Misogi going to be?


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