Or why I decided to be a crazy person.
The youth years are easy.
You have monsters, both real and imaginary, to slay. The make-believe demons that hide underneath your bed, the herculean task of studying for your examinations, the next-to-impossible bosses in your video games.
Those are the easy monsters.
I was raised on Tolkien, man. I mean, where is all this? Where are my White Walkers and my volcano and magic ring to throw in the damn thing? Where's my quest?"
- Charlie Bradbury*
As the years pile on and the crescents come and go, the monsters become stronger, more vague. Life becomes duller. It's not about aceing an examination anymore. It's no longer enough just to defeat World 8-2. There are no examinations in real life, no Great Test, only the constant background noise of the mundane. The Matrix can in fact be described to you. Weeks blend together and you count time by weekends, then by vacations.
When did we collectively come to this consensus that Life, with its capital L, only exists during the weekends, sandwiched between the all-consuming boss battle we call Work?
Don't misunderstand me, I love my work. It has its ups and downs, but in general it fulfills me. I love learning about new languages, new frameworks. I love working on new designs, rearranging the same familiar elements in different ways. I love it, but more and more I feel this existential dread creeping up within me, this little voice that asks one question over and over again - "Is this it?"
I'm discontented; where is my quest?
In some cultures, there is a coming-of-age ritual. In the Brazilian Amazon, a tribe marks their coming-of-age by wearing gloves with sedated bullet ants, who will eventually wake up angrier than ever. Each boy has to wear the gloves for ten minutes, and a total of 20 times over the span of several months.
The sting of a bullet ant is said to be at least 4 times as painful as a bee's sting:
"[The pain] really shurts you down. It really felt like a bullet. It was instantaneous, almost even before it stung me. It was absolutely riveting. There were huge waves and crescendos of burning pain - a tsunami of pain coming out of my finger. The tsunami would crash as they do on the beach, then recede a little bit, then crash again. It wasn't just 2 or 3 of these waves. It continued for around 12 hours. Crash. Recede. Crash. It was absolutely excruciating. There wasn't much I could do except be aware of it and groan."
It's hard to imagine the pain they must have felt going through that. I honestly don't know if I would have made it out of that alive. But I would have loved to go through that just to find out.
What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or bear - and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?
*Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.
And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into him action?
- Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher
Around the same time I was feeling my great discontent, I had to introduce myself to a bunch of strangers, and needed to include a random fun fact about me. What I said was this:
"I think running is actually kind of fun."
Cue chorus of groans and booing. It's true though- running is fun if only because it's boring. The truth is any reasonably fit and uninjured person can run a 10K, if very slowly. The only thing stopping anyone from doing it is purely in the head, and that's the fun part. The tug-o-war with your own self, the struggle between soldiering on and giving up. That's where the fun is.
Shortly after that, I decided that I needed my own Trial, my own Quest. Life isn't going to suddenly drop me into any fucking pool of lava for me to escape from. I needed a challenge if only to act as my lighthouse in this persistent mind-numbing drip drip drip of life.
Something like a multiday, 1300km bicycle ride across the South Island of New Zealand should do the job.
It was a quick decision, to be honest. Once I've read about this, I've already subconsciosuly decided at that moment that I was going to do it.
"Go. See what happens."
I still have a few months of preparations to do, tickets to buy, training to be done. But go I will.