For years I fantasized about making a movie called Trudge. It would be roughly 3 minutes of short clips of outdoor trudging, no words (other than the expletives that come naturally from the athletes), just the parts of outdoor activities that slow us down, lean the body forward, pull our faces down into concentrated grimaces, make us profusely sweaty, muddy, cold or windblown, but presumably get us to where we want to be. I never thought there needed to be a payoff in my movie, because that is what all the other outdoor movies are about. This one is a study of how we choose to suffer.
I was shuttle bunny for some friends a few years ago, dropped them off at the base of a downhill ride that started with a crazy steep hike-a-bike. The red dirt was sliding away under their feet as they struggled for ground. I watched them, imagined the sound of their heavy breathing, the sweat under their full-face helmets and armor as they paused, pushed, paused, pushed. That could be the first clip in my movie.
On a ladies’ backcountry ski day, I was charged with breaking trail for the uphill ski. There had been a skin track the day before, but heavy winds had obliterated it and left an icy blank crust. I skied into the wind, leaned down on my poles, pushed down through the crust to make a usable track for the group. “Where am I going?” I shouted at the friend with the plan. “To that tree,” I barely heard over the wind. And so I pushed, slid, leaned, pushed some more up to the ridgeline. I looked back and watched 8 ladies doing the same thing, pushing, leaning, slipping, slowly making their way up to me.
Backpacking, as far as I am concerned, is one of the trudgiest of outdoor activities. Carrying a tall pack, heavy with a week’s worth of food, a day or so of water, clothing, fuel, sleeping bag, tent, wearing boots that limit nimbleness — it is almost a trudge downhill. Imagine now crossing a raging creek on a narrow log, probably wet from splashed water. One foot slips and the backpacker slides into the creek, pack down in the creek like an upside-down turtle.
Mountain biking into a freak snowstorm that turns the trail into sticky red clay, clogging up the wheels, chain, derailleur. Impossible to clean or push, the bike has to be carried with shoes gathering the same sticky mud, all if it weighing as much as the dark cloud of regret for even thinking of going on this ride.
Riding three miles of slightly uphill sandpit on a mountain bike. Or wet pea gravel, with the tires sinking in and slipping.
Stopping on a trail for rest and realizing that your feet are sinking into quicksand. Slowly, slowly holding onto a tree or the arm of a friend as you pull yourself free.
These are things I have experienced, but I can imagine so much more. The slow grind of a bike packing trip on an endless uphill cobbled dirt track, alpine climbing in a snow/windstorm, trail running in slippery mud in the rain, anything involving Mt. Everest or high altitude mountain climbing.
Sometimes we trudge accidentally, sometimes it is necessary to get to the fun part (and maybe it makes the fun part that much sweeter), some people seek it out in the name of doing the thing, whatever that may be. I have never been much of a goal-oriented person, in any case, but I’ve always invested some amount of energy into shaping the experience of the journey and minimizing the trudge. These days, though, I am realizing that sometimes the trudge is where the effort lies, and with effort comes a far greater payoff, assuming the goal is chosen wisely. Maybe trudge is a state of mind that might better be thought of as doing the work.
Any filmmakers out there are free to make this idea their own.