What can a canoe portage teach us about New Year’s resolutions?
it was a muggy August day. Above us, grey rain clouds had blocked out the sun and left us to the sticky heat and the mosquitos. We’d spent the weekend with a troop of teens, camped on a tiny island in the middle of Mud Turtle lake. Now my cousin Starr and I, the two female chaperones, pulled our canoe up on the far shore for the return trip. But first, we had to make the one kilometre portage to the next lake. Across that lake was where our vehicles–where civilization–was.
We were eight canoes, and the strong young men had enough to carry without the extra burden of our canoe. I looked at Starr. “I’ll carry it.”
We’d portaged it halfway on the trip into Mud Turtle before one of the guys had taken pity on us. This time I wanted to go the distance. Our guides had coached us how to arrange our backpack as a platform the canoe could rest on. I’d prepared my pack for that purpose. So I shouldered my hiking pack and Starr helped me lift the canoe. They were cheap, fibre glass canoes–heavy to carry and hard to steer. I staggered a little as my backpack bit into my shoulders. Behind me, Starr hefted her pack, plus my extra baggage. We started walking.
I forged ahead like a beetle, the canoe on top of me like a shell. The point of the canoe shoved through the undergrowth as my feet navigated the narrow, climbing trail. I had already been sweating, now it poured down my back. One of the guys passed me with his canoe over his head like it weighed nothing.
“Are you okay?” Starr asked behind me. The pots and pans she carried rattled together.
“Yeah,” I gasped.
A third of the way down the trail I stumbled. Off balance, I dropped the canoe into the short bushes beside the trial. I groaned and rubbed at my shoulders. My brother came alongside. “Do you want me to take it?”
He helped me pick it up, and I began to walk again.
My shoulders were in agony. The backpack was carrying the full weigh of the canoe, and transferring it through the straps into my tender flesh. I balanced the canoe with upraised arms, but they were turning to mush.
Two-thirds across, I heard my little brother’s voice. “I can take it the rest of the way.”
But I was almost there, and I knew it. “No!” I grunted, “If you take in now I’ll have all the pain and none of the reward.”
So I carried that canoe until I finally saw the silver water of Brereton Lake. The path turned into a steep descent toward the water. Finally, I dropped the canoe. I’d done it.
All Pain, No Gain
My back was stiff and sore for days, and my shoulders were purple with bruises. But that’s not what I remember. It’s that phrase: “I’ll have all the pain and none of the reward.” Whatever pain-stricken, divine inspiration it came from, it stuck with me.
“It hurts. I’m tired,” I say in the fifth mile of my 10K. “No, you’re too close!” If I quit, I get all the pain and none of the reward. Same thing goes with other challenges. Like at my job, I’ve went through a few season mistakes and lost confidence as I strained to learn and pushed myself too far. “Quit” came to mind. But I’d already had so much stress, and learned so much. If I quit, I’d get no reward. Eventually I overcame my challenges, and gained new influence and skill because of it.
Learn What Kind of Pain it is
Pain is a warning sign. It can’t be denied that if you are in pain, be it mental or physical, you are ‘red lining’. You’re nearing full capacity, and it may be time to back off.
Part of learning to run has been learning to discern what is just stiffness that will pass, and what is the early onset of an injury. For instance, I find that in the first couple miles my legs will be vaguely sore and I’m tempted to say, “This sucks. This hurts.” But by now I know that it will pass as the runner’s high takes over.
I’ve made some mistakes, such as running with a lung virus or pushing myself too hard on a pre-work run, and being sick during my shift. I ran with patellofemoral syndrome much longer than necessary, because I didn’t know something was actually wrong and that it could be fixed easily enough. A coach might have prevented much of this.
So I’m not telling you to be reckless. But if you resolved to get in shape this year, and you’ve been hitting the gym, you are probably in the ‘all pain, no gain’ stage. Well suck it up, buttercup. If you don’t, you’ll have gone through all that pain for nothing. Give it a few weeks, and it will get better. Two weeks isn’t that long in the scope of things. And then you’ll also have increased flexibility, strength, weight-loss and mental sharpness. Do you really want to succeed? There is no magic bullet. You have to put in the time and endure the pain.
Is the pain worth the gain? Then don’t drop the canoe.