Day 24: Second Wind

“The fatigue of the climb was great but it is interesting to learn once more how much further one can go on one’s second wind. I think that is an important lesson for everyone to learn for it should also be applied to one’s mental efforts. Most people go through life without ever discovering the existence of that whole field of endeavor which we describe as second wind. Whether mentally or physically occupied most people give up at the first appearance of exhaustion. Thus they never learn the glory and the exhilaration of genuine effort…”
– Agnes Elizabeth née Ernst Meyer

The following post was first seen in Dryuary 2017.

When I was in college, my Dad and I climbed Mount Whitney. For the record it is the tallest point in the continental US, at 14,505 feet.
Did you know that only about 1/3 of the people who set out to climb Mount Whitney actually make it to the summit? Seriously? Only 1/3? Neither did I.
What happens to all those other people? You gotta figure that most of them are in fairly good shape, have done their research, carry adequate gear, and have done some mountain climbing. But a full 2/3 of those who start out don’t make it? What’s up with that?
My Dad was a quiet mountain man from West Virginia with a dry wit. We climbed the way mountain people have always climbed, slowly and comfortably, lifting each foot just high enough, then letting it drop deliberately in the most secure spot, settling into an easy rhythm. We rarely stopped to rest because we rested with each step.
As we climbed those two days we noticed several groups of people who seemed to be almost racing up the trail.  We would step off the trail so they could huff and puff past us, glancing sideways at us with small smiles of pity. Dad and I slowly plodded along and would eventually come upon those same groups of people who were now sitting to rest, wiping sweat from their brow, gulping oxygen and water.
After awhile they would come charging up behind us again, anxious to get past the two slowpokes.  And sure enough, a little while later, we would amble past them again as they sat gasping for breath.
Dad and I knew something that they did not. We knew about that extraordinary, coveted phenomenon known as the Second Wind. In the mornings Dad and I would stand up, sling on our backpacks and begin our steady march. At some point we would be breathing pretty hard and Dad would ask, “Got your Second Wind yet?” “Nope.”
“Wanna stop and rest?”
“Heck, no! If we stop now, we’ll just have to start all over again!”
Slow rhythmic steps, keep a steady pace, don’t think, just keep clumping along.
“How about now? Got your Second Wind now?”
“Yup. How about you?”
At that point you could not have paid us to stop to rest because we had finally gained that invaluable treasure, the Second Wind. We were in the zone, tramping along, enjoying the scenery and, truth be told, enjoying the strength of our bodies. If we sat down to rest, we’d have to work that much harder just to earn it all back again. No way were we gonna let that slip away.
Of course, we did stop to rest occasionally, mostly just for a few minutes. Usually we would just take off our packs, grab a Payday candy bar (those are THE best on a backpacking trip!), eat standing up, take a long drink of water, pull our packs back on, and hit the trail again. We knew that if we sat down it would be that much harder to get up, and we would lose our precious Second Wind. We had invested so much to achieve that almighty Second Wind, and there was no way we were going to throw it all away by plopping down for a long rest.
And that brings us, of course, to what I like to call SecondWinduary!
Just stop for a minute and ponder that. You’ve done the work, you’ve kept on trekking when you didn’t think you could take another step or abs another minute, let alone a full day or… 31 days. You’ve found and developed muscles you never knew you had. Maybe some days were harder than others, but let’s face it, if it was easy none of us would be here. But whether you are in the zone or still struggling, there is no way you want to throw all that hard work away. No way.
That oh-my-god-I’ve-been-so-good-I-deserve-it-so-I’m-gonna-drink-as-much-as-I-want or even the I-deserve-it-so-I’m-gonna-just-go-a-bit-over-my-limit celebratory “rest” will cost you what you have worked so hard for, your Second Wind. We all know how hard it is to dig ourselves out of a spiral. Every single one of us knows it is much, much harder to get back up and start trekking again when we have stopped to “rest” (read drink) for too long. The occasional short breather, one or two drinks now and then, is absolutely fine. Nothing wrong with a pleasant refreshing interlude.
The problem, as we all know, is the prolonged hiatus filled with too much alcohol. That’s when we lose our Second Wind and, knowing how hard it will be when we do decide to crawl back to a standing position and commence our climb again, we can tend to just sit and sit in the same place. Of course, the longer we sit there, the harder it is to get back up. You know that. I know that.
So. Here we are near the end of SecondWinduary. Whatcha gonna do?
P.S. Okay, I wanted to end this on a high note, but I know from, ahem, personal experience that some of us, ahem, don’t always make the best choice to keep our Second Wind. We sometimes do sit down and “treat” ourselves to too much for too long. And guess what? We have the choice at every minute to stand back up and take that next first hard step on the way to our next Second Wind. We CAN do it.
Post Submitted By: Horselover, MM Member


  1. I just love this one. Sometimes we do just get really tired but it is also true that we can find a second wind, in this endeavor as in so many others. I just have to keep telling myself that it’s often quite uncomfortable just before that second wind kicks in, and that’s just how it is.

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