Face the Mountain

Once, I ran an adventure race on Lamma Island in Hong Kong.  I got caught up in a chase, trying to catch another racer who had beaten me in the last two races.  She was fast.  Really fast.  She had passed me and I wanted, more than anything, to catch her, to beat her to the finish in this last ever Lamma Island race for me.  We were flying down a steep, technical downhill, faster than fast.  But I was confident.  I’d done this race before – four times, in fact – and always come through fine.  Once, I’d even won a trophy for my age class.

So I ran.  And I chased.  It was on that downhill that it happened.  I went to land my left foot but there was no track – it had been washed away down the center of the trail.  So I was forced, at pace, to cross my left foot over my right, on this steep downhill.  Many times, this move would have been okay.  Times when I was focused on myself and not on the chase.  Not today.

I felt a sharp twist as the ankle gave way.  I don’t recall falling, though I must have.  I’d sprained ankles before.  I knew how bad it was even before the pain hit.  We had four kilometres to go.  I could have stopped but I was embarrassed – I couldn’t even imagine a mountain rescue.  I brushed myself off, and hobbled those four kilometres, twisting the ankle a few more times on the coastal rock section, where I do recall falling.  I jogged the last beach section, to finish thirty minutes behind the woman I was trying to catch.  An ambulance took me to the island hospital.

Recovery took six weeks.

I contemplate the Race Director’s email that arrived the day after the race.  He was sorry I’d sprained my ankle.  But he reminded me that, just perhaps, I had not respected the mountain.

Oh, I felt fury.  For days, I felt fury.  And then I realised, quite simply, and quite suddenly, that he was right.

I’m part of a self-publishing group.  I read comments by the other members, contemplate their advice, and benefit greatly from their wisdom.  But just lately, there has been a new thread.  It is headed something like, “Is this it?”  The theme: “I’ve done all this hard work.  Is this it?  This can’t be it!”

It disheartened me.  I stopped opening the daily digests from the group.  But the thought wouldn’t go away.  Would this be it?  If those others had put in the hard work, and got little in the way of results, what was the point, exactly?

Today, I opened a Trail Run magazine, and began reading an article called “Face the Mountain” in which a cancer survivor talked about, well, facing the mountain.  It woke me up.  Made me think.  Self-publishing.  Yes, that too, is a mountain.  A mountain that demands respect.

Here’s what I think now, when I think of self-publishing.

Face the mountain.

It is no good underestimating its size

Or its power

Wishful thinking will not change it.

Willing it away will not erode it.

The mountain simply is.

Before we climb and as we climb we must face it.

For exactly what it is.

Otherwise it will hit us smack in the face (or the ankle).

Not with vengeance.  But with truth.

Mountains warrant respect.

Landmarks, sentinels, metaphors:

To climb upon their flanks, to ascend

We cannot wish.  We cannot dream.

We must face the mountain for exactly what it is.

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