2020 began as 2019 had ended—awesomely. As 2019 wound down, I found myself back in the Atacama Desert, a place I love and which I’d crossed 1,200K north to south in 2011. This time, I was there guiding a group with my company KapiK1 and we had an absolute blast in that week in the driest place on Earth. In early January I completed a solo Arctic expedition that I had been dreaming up for years and in mid-February I was in Siberia, guiding a group of clients across Lake Baikal, once again with my buddies and KapiK1.
Sights were set on returning home and preparing for a series of Impossible2Possible Youth Expeditions! (There were even more plans after that; 2020 was going to be a crazy busy year!) But when I returned home from Russia, things were about to change—we all know what happened next.
As COVID hit, all of our lives were disrupted for the foreseeable future. After such an awesome 2019, everything shut down for me in 2020, as it did for so many of us. The races I organized were all cancelled, our KapiK1 expeditions postponed to 2021—as well as my personal expeditions—and with all travel limited, my usual sources of income dried up. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to never underestimate our capacity to adapt and do what we need to do. During the toughest months of the pandemic, I wrote a few posts on FB and Instagram about what I felt were critical topics: uncertainty, resilience and perseverance.
That’s really what we are all fearing the most. We know COVID is a horrible virus making many people sick, and the numbers of those dying are on the rise. But it’s that ‘unknown,’ navigating the uncertainty of what the future holds that seems the most daunting. Going for groceries has become an exercise in virus mitigation, the uncertainty of whether you’ll get infected or unknowingly spread the virus to those we love is stressful. Most of us are at home, either teleworking or out of work. The uncertainty of the economy is scary. I know for sure my business has suffered, which creates uncertainty for how I’ll take care of my family. Our daughters were out of school for weeks and now with September on the horizon, there’s more uncertainty for them and us. I know that a huge expedition I had planned for the fall is now on hold until 2021. I’ve pivoted to another massive winter, unsupported expedition in the Canadian Arctic that we’ve been planning, but still uncertainty on my 2020 expeditions occupies my mind. But the way I see it, we have a choice.
We can stay focused on the uncertainty and worry constantly, losing sleep and our health (both physical and mental), or we can do what each of us needs to do to move past this as safely and effectively as possible—staying focused on what we can do each day. Instead of fear, we can instead think of the potential of what we will learn from this, and how we can mobilize together to tackle future challenges the world faces.
We can make the best of the times that we can. I know that the upside of the kids being home is that we find the time each day for family activities and adventures in our backyard. My training is focused on being as healthy as I can be. My head is in a positive outcome and better future. I can’t help but be an optimist, and my belief in people is as steadfast as always. And I’m choosing to sleep well at night. I hope you are too!
It’s something we all need a little of these days. We are in it for the long haul, we’ve made it this far and we can’t give up now. These are words that I’m using a lot these days, but they are words I’ve used so, so many times in the past, too.
I have literally had my ass handed to me a hundred times, on a hundred different days on many past expeditions. There’s been times when I was sure I couldn’t continue, times when I was sure it was over. I mean, really, really believing I was finished. But there would always be this small, tiny, microscopic flame of hope in me that would compel me to get up. To start another day. To keep going. To keep pushing.
It took a long time and many expeditions (I’m stubborn!) to learn that this was basically ‘resilience.’ Slowly, but surely—one expedition after another, one beating after another, I learned to become resilient. I learned that through commitment and perseverance I could overcome huge obstacles. I could finish what I set out to do. These days, I think often about past expeditions and what I’ve learned. I think the most important lesson I’ve learned over and over is that human beings are capable of extraordinary things. I don’t mean me. I mean us. In each and every one of us is the capacity to overcome this huge challenge we are faced with. We just need to keep it up. We can’t give up. We will make it to the other side of this. Stronger and wiser.
Tomorrow won’t be the same as today, that’s for sure. It’s pretty much the only guarantee we have right now. The eventual conclusion of this crisis is already written, and we know it will happen, but it’s our resolve and our ‘will’ that will get us there—to a day that at this point seems far away. We all have the ability to persevere, even when we think we can’t. Trying to find daily motivation or the drive to simply get through another day, can at times seem—or feel—impossible. But we all have the ability to dig deep when we need to. Sometimes we just need a little reminder.
My ring has become a reminder of what’s possible, that I look to whenever I’m at my lowest points. I glance at it and remind myself ‘I can do this.’ My ring has been with me every step of the way since our 7,500km run across the Sahara. It’s been a steady partner on expeditions across the Arctic, Antarctica, Siberia, the Gobi, Atacama, Namib deserts and more. Midway, through our Sahara traverse, in early 2007, I had remarked to one of our guides (and professional smuggler) Adoua, that his ring was really cool. The Tuareg people are great artists, especially with silver. He explained to me that this ring was made for him by a friend in a remote desert outpost, and was very special. I was mesmerized by not only the ring, but the story he told me about it. A month or so passed, and on my birthday, Adoua handed me a ball of crumpled paper, a huge grin on his face. It was the ring and though I refused to accept it, he refused my refusal.
It’s been on my hand ever since, and in the toughest of days, frozen in the Arctic or lost in the mountains of the Gobi, or in times of personal uncertainty, I look to my ring and draw strength from my memories of my friends in the Sahara, and the tremendous odds we overcame there. It’s a reminder to me that with perseverance, we all have the ability to get through anything. Even times like these.