My New Everest


I’ve got big dreams. Big goals. Always have. Probably goes back to when I was a kid and found my dad’s do-before-I die list. I don’t remember what it said exactly, but as soon as I read it I wrote one of my own.

At 8 years old I hoped to one day run a marathon, ride a horse in the Mongolia steppe, and trek through the Sahara. Dunzo.

I also thought I’d climb Mt. Everest. The older I get, and the more controversial that mountain becomes, the less likely this is going to happen. I’m OK with this since there are plenty of other ‘Everests’ to summit.

Mt. Everest, however, was a saving grace during my stint as a middle school special ed teacher in Long Beach, CA. Though I genuinely saw Sir Edmund’s 29,029-foot accomplishment as an actual goal of mine, bagging the highest peak in the world also served as an exotic metaphor for my students who rarely considered the existence of life beyond their neighborhoods.

For me and these kids, whose lives I’d never truly understand, Mt. Everest became an unlikely unifier. A mountain for students to climb in their own way — their ‘Everests’ ranging from a day at Disneyland to getting donuts with an imprisoned father to visiting aunt so-and-so in Lancaster who made an amazing apple pie.

Mountains suddenly existed as an invitation.

I’ve always believed that a dream is the first evidence of reality. The more I honor the dream, the more likely it is to materialize. If I taught my students nothing else, I taught them this.

My students examined their own fears by asking me about my own. “Mr. G – what if you never even get there?” “What if you go but die up there?” “What if you make it half way and have to turn around before reaching the top.”

My answer was always the same—“If I really want it, and I put effort into trying to make it happen, then whatever happens is exactly what’s supposed to happen.” Nobody bought my answer, but they never stopped with their questions.

“Mr. Griffen’s crazy,” was the most common quip.

When I saw one of my students a few years later and he asked me if I’d climbed Mt. Everest yet, I knew something had stuck.

My new ‘Everest’ is a walk. A big walk. Clear across the USA. Something I added to my to-do list after I returned home from the Army in 1994. The moment of inspiration occurred at a barber shop in Huntington Beach. While waiting for my turn, I picked up an old National Geographic magazine (April 1977) and mindlessly looked at the photos. An article/photo essay by Peter Jenkins struck me—A Walk Across America. A guy and his dog wandering afoot from one coast to the other. Totally blew me away.

And though I was in awe of the effort and mileage Jenkins made, I found myself saying out loud, “I want to do that.”

When it was my turn, I asked the barber if I could take the magazine home. He shrugged. When I told him I was going to walk across America he said, “Why don’t you just take a train or something?”

Over the years I’ve fielded my share of such comments, mostly while training for 50 or 100-mile ultramarathons. A comment like, Shit, I don’t even want to drive that far! is pretty much a given. And in the same vein, the most typical question is, “Why? Why you wanna do something nutty like that? You got something you need to prove?”

Those are big questions. Ones whose answers remain somewhat elusive. To me, anyhow.

In a perfect world, I’d like to think I am just an adventurous spirit inspired by discovery. I’d also like to think that I’m walking for reasons that transcend some sort of external validation. But I can’t lie, such needs exist.

I will say, however, that embarking upon such a journey at age 45 is much different than it would have been when I first found that magazine in the 90s. It’s certainly more thought out. Something I’ll begin with a much more open mind.

And make no mistake, this walk isn’t something I’m doing in lieu of a buying a cherry Corvette. That the impetus to walk is still alive after 23 years says a little something (doesn’t it?), as does the fact that various things I’ve done along the way build up to a walk of this magnitude. But even as I write this paragraph, I realize I’m trying to justify my why—when all that’s really important is that I stoke a fire that’s been burning hot in my belly for years. That is enough.

These days, when someone asks me why, and they often do, I usually say, “Why not… life’s too short to mess around not doing what you really want to do.”

It’s like the Jack London quote: I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot.

For me, it’s just that simple.

Just imagine what would happen in the world if we all honored what brought us the most joy. That would be cool.

If you’d like to help me make this happen, please visit my crowd-funding page. I’m off to a great start…Thanks!!

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