Everyone Can Suffer

Zero kilometers.  I hold the sign and savor the coolness of the metal. 

I’m done. 

Actually done. 

Not done for 20 minutes while I eat lunch.  Not done for the night.  Not even done for the night and the next day, while I take some time and rest. 

Done with the trip. 

I can do whatever I want now. 

Well…I’ve always been able to, but this feels different.  I don’t have a goal to weigh me down—or to motivate me. 

I walk a little further, to the path by the ocean.  There’s a sign welcoming me to Puerto Montt, and I take a couple selfies with my Ipad. 

Then I sit on the seawall and gaze at the world.  I think the sun has just set.  I can’t see it through the clouds, but I’ve watched enough overcast nights to recognize the subtle deepening in the sky.  I rest for a little while, watching the light starting to seep away.  Then, I realize I should get to my hostel.  I can’t really rest until I’m there. 

I check my Ipad, for the location.  Three kilometers away.  Damn.  I don’t feel like walking any more.  I guess I could take a taxi now.  I’ve walked the whole Carretera; I don’t need to walk further.  But…it feels right to walk the last stretch, this last day. 

My legs move with a tired dignity.  It occurs to me that I could keep going all night, if I had to.  I would be weary and sore and every cell in my body would want to be done, but I could do it.  There’s a strength within me that would keep on.  There’s a strength in everyone that could keep on.  I relax into that thought and let myself move, without dwelling on anything.

It’s dark when I reach the hostel.  My mind goes on auto-pilot for the couple minutes of checking in.  My voice is pleasant as I answer the questions of where I’m from and what I’ve done, but it seems like someone else’s voice, saying someone else’s thoughts.  The words come in the right order, but it’s not me speaking.  I’m just an observer, exhausted and wanting to sleep.  Unfortunately, my story draws interest for its novelty.  But after a few minutes, people recognize that I’m tired, and they let me go.

I walk to my room and take off my pack.  Then I sit down, onto the bed.  And finally, I feel done.  My body relaxes from a tension I hadn’t realized it carried.  I stare at the wall.  It’s not boring, or interesting.  It just…is.  Clean, rustic, yellow white in the softness of the lamp. 

I’m not joyous, and I’m not feeling letdown, either.  Maybe I’ll feel that tomorrow.  Right now, I’m too tired to feel anything.  I’m just…there.   In myself, and with myself.  Content to stare at the walls of the room, observing the little imperfections in the paint.  Content to lounge like a lizard in the light of the lamp. 

I realize that with the extra distance from the city center, I’ve walked 57 kilometers.  That means I averaged exactly 42.2 kilometers a day for the last 14 days.  One marathon.  I’d hoped for more, when I started.  I’d hoped to run this road, before my leg got injured.  But I’ve done the Carretera.  I’ll take it.

I chill longer.  In my exhaustion, time doesn’t seem to pass.

After awhile, I strip down and look in the mirror.  I’ve lost weight since I started.  My stomach is a wall of muscle and veins, even though I can’t remember the last time I did an ab workout.  My arms have shrunk, with all the muscle from a year and a half of climbing rocks melted away.  But my body did better than I’d feared.  I’ve always eaten a lot and always stayed thin, and I wasn’t sure if I even could handle the distances on this trip.  I thought I might waste to nothing, and have to stop for a week and just eat.  It didn’t happen.  I held up.

I start to feel grateful.  Grateful for my body, for being there when I needed it.  And grateful for my friends, for all the people who thought I was an athlete when I felt tired and slow.  Sometimes that reputation was a burden.  But sometimes, it helped me be the person others imagined.  People’s idea of Sam would have kept going, so I could try.

For those who’ve read this far, thank you.  And understand when you’re struggling, you’re not the only weak body in a world of athletes.  Sometimes any body is weak.  And the cure for weakness isn’t  strength or lungs or experience, it’s will.  It’s keeping on when you want to stop.  It’s getting back up, if you have stopped.  It’s choosing to suffer.  And everyone can suffer.  Everyone can struggle and get better at something they want to get better at.

Good luck out there,