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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Imp of the Perverse


          Edgar Allen Poe called it the Imp of the Perverse.  My take on this phrase is that some of us have an impulse to do that which we most fear.  Perhaps raging water terrifies you. If, then, when you are standing on the bank of a raging, roaring river, you feel the impulse to jump in you have just experienced the imp of the perverse. Those who suffer from the imp of the perverse are generally able to control it in most potentially fatal situations. I often find myself giving in to the imp of the perverse in situations that do not threaten my life, but do threaten my physical and mental comfort. For instance, I left a master’s program that did not require oral exams or a written thesis for a master’s program that did. This may not seem strange except that the idea of oral exams terrified me. In spite of my fear I passed them. I grew up terrified of physical or verbal confrontations.  Driven by the “imp” I signed up for a martial arts program where I was yelled at, punched, and kicked (hard). I was scared every time I entered the dojang, but in the end I had a great experience. High altitude hikes among rocky crags scare me, and yet thrice I have hiked the local 12,000 ft peak after swearing the first time that I would never do it again. Most recently  the imp struck again when I looked at Levan Peak (about 8500 ft). I can see the antennas up there by day and a single light shining by night. I am at least fifty pounds overweight and very much out of shape. The climb could be classified as easy other than the fact that you climb 3000 feet in about two miles. For someone in my shape that climb is going to be very uncomfortable. Unable to control the imp I promised my eleven-year-old son we would arise early and climb it.

My 11-year-old, Jory

  After doing a little research I learned from a couple of sources how steep the climb is. There is a very well-maintained gravel road that goes all the way to the top, but it takes a four-wheel-drive to gain the necessary traction to negotiate the grade. Jory and I got an early start to avoid the 90 degree heat that would hit by noon. We followed the winding road up a narrow canyon until the road takes a sudden left and begins to climb very steeply.  I wasn’t sure I was at the correct left until my truck started spinning and bucking as we lost traction. I pulled over, applied the parking break, and we got out to face the mountain.

The valley below with shadows of clouds.
 
Equipped with a knapsack containing water and a couple of granola bars we started hiking. From my research I thought we could make it to the top in two hours.  With that goal motivating us we pushed up the  road.  At 50 years old I am well into my middle-aged years. That, combined with the extra fifty pounds of weight I am carrying, made me wonder if I could make it to the top at all. My son is only eleven-years-old and leads a fairly active life. I was worried I would embarrass myself in front of him or have to quit before we reached the summit.  It wasn’t long, however, before he was stopping to catch his breath before I asked him too.  We would pick a landmark up the road a little ways and try to walk to it before we stopped to rest. Often we didn’t make it.  What psyched us out was that we were on a nice gravel road. We weren’t hiking freestyle up the side of a mountain and still we had to stop and catch our breath every thirty to forty yards. The road was very steep.

The road is very steep.
 
We came around a bend and topped one rise when our goal came into view. We both uttered something like, “Holy Cow!” The antenna towers and peak were still far away and far above us. We didn’t say it but I’m pretty sure both of us thought at that moment that there was no way we were going to make it. I checked my watch and noticed that we had only been hiking for an hour. This gave me a little hope. We had committed to two hours.  I asked Jory and he agreed that we would hike for another hour and see where that put us. Just maybe we could make it.

Our goal is up there in the sunlight.Seemed like days away.


 
The road became less steep for one-hundred yards and then shot up at an extreme grade for another hundred yards to a lower set of antennas. Viewing that steep grade was disheartening to both of us, but up we went, thirty steps at a time.

The road is already steep, then seems to shoot straight up.
 
When we reached the lower tower at the top of that grade we were breathing hard and sweating. The peak still seemed to be so high above us after another four long switchbacks. I think Jory would have been satisfied to stop at this lower tower, but I saw on my watch we still had fifteen minutes before we had been hiking two hours. It wasn’t too hard to talk him into continuing. The grade of these last four switch backs was much easier than the hike to the first tower and we made good time. We came to a break in the Douglas Fir trees and there it was, the summit with all its antennas. I checked my watch and we were just five minutes past two hours. Jory and I high-fived and on we went to the summit where we enjoyed a spectacular view of Juab county. 

The Peak.

Our town, Levan, is the green just above the mountain line.

Jory and I in the towers at the peak.
 
 It was strange how, all the way up, we looked forward to coming back down because it would be so much easier. Yet when we got underway we found it every bit as difficult as going up. Oh, it’s true our hearts weren’t pounding and we weren’t out of breath, but our calves and our knees burned and grew weak as we held ourselves back.  Every-once-in-a-while we would look over our shoulders at the steepness of the road behind us and I would say, “Did we climb that for fun? What were we thinking?” But even today, as I deal with legs that hurt and don’t want to work properly, I think of the solitude we enjoyed, the sound of the wind in the fir trees, the company of a cheerful son, and I the imp of the perverse is tempting me to hike it again next week.

1 comment:

Corybander said...

I had Never heard of the Imp of the Perverse. That was an excellent look at facing the uncomfortable and literally surmounting it. Thank you very much!