Read Caption
Climbers Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold; Photograph by Cedar Wright

Suffering for the Fun of It

This summer, The North Face climbers Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold decided to enchain all of California’s 14,000-foot peaks, which wouldn’t be that notable, except for the fact that they were going to try to do it without cars. Over the course of three epic weeks of pain and suffering, the quirky duo who—had never done a bike tour in their lives—pedaled more than 800 miles, hiked over a hundred miles, and climbed over 100,000 feet of elevation, on the way to becoming the first people to enchain these historic peaks using only human transport. To up the ante even further, they did not bring ropes, and avoided the easy way up, climbing steep rock climbs on many of the peaks.  Here is Cedar’s analysis of the “fun” experience they had this summer. 

Some people say there are three types of fun. I actually find this kind of empirical delineation of something as amorphous and multi-faceted as “fun” to be contrived and a little annoying. Writer Malcolm Gladwell is the master of this type of oversimplified analysis and thinking around complex phenomena; i.e. “tipping points,”  “10,000 hours,” etc.  But, sometimes life is complicated and we need to put things in simple terms in order to better understand them, thus, the three types of fun.

The mission I shared with my good friend Alex Honnold to climb all of California’s 14ers by bike was a cornucopia/junk-show of emotions that I still have not fully recovered from or intellectually ingested.  I thought it might be “fun” to look at our adventure through the lens of the Three Types of Fun!

According to popular thinking, Type One Fun is fun in the moment fun, perhaps seeing a movie, having a drink with friends, or seeing some awesome live music would fit into this category. We all need type one fun in our lives.

Type Two Fun is perhaps not that fun in the moment, but is fun when it’s over.  Type Two Fun might be an epic ski tour in a blizzard that leaves you feeling tired but satisfied, or it might be running a marathon where the joy really only sets in at the finish line.  I would argue that this type of fun is probably the most important for long-term happiness and satisfaction in life, but that’s another story.

And then, there is Type Three Fun, which is really not fun at all. In fact it’s so epicly heinous that it’s not even fun when it’s over, it may even leave you with genuine post-traumatic stress. But the reward is that Type Three Fun is the stuff of legends and awesome stories.  The only real fun in Type Three Fun comes when you get to share your misery with others later around a campfire, through writing or perhaps in a film. Mountaineering often finds its way into type three fun, where avalanches, frostbite, and a myriad of other near death experiences lend themselves well to enrapturing tales if the “fun” is in fact survived.

Over our three-week journey across California I’d say that Alex and I experienced Type One and Type Two Fun for sure, in fact I’d say that we experienced them on a daily basis. One moment that was guaranteed type one fun each day was when we were rewarded with a long, steep grade that we could coast down. Alex and I were complete bike newbies, and for us, this was for sure the best part of biking; the part where we weren’t really biking at all, and got the thrill and excitement of bombing down a hill at 55 miles per hour.  This was the carrot on a stick for each trailhead that we biked up which ranged from about 4,000 to 9,000 feet of elevation gain and after another 14er, sweet, sweet descent!

In the mornings which usually started around 2 a.m. there were moments of bliss/fun that might be called Type One, but inevitably by the end of each day those moments faded away under a somber fog of ass pain, sore legs, sunburn, knee aches, and general exhaustion that is inevitable when you combine biking, hiking, and climbing into endless seventeen hour days. But each evening as we lay down on our sleeping pad or motel room bed, there was a feeling of complete joyous satisfaction that we had pushed the limits of our bodies to their very limits.  I wonder if there are people out there that have never had this sensation in their lives?  If there are, I feel sorry for them.

Toward the end of the trip with about four more peaks to go, there were still moments of Type One and Two fun, but they were rare.  Basically we had committed ourselves to an accomplishment that was breaking our bodies apart. Alex was suffering from alarming knee pain that made biking torturous, and I was limping quite badly due to a severely enflamed Achilles tendon. Mostly what was driving me toward the end was the desire to say I had done it.

I don’t think all the various emotions of life—fun, suffering, ecstasy, wonder, etc.—are as simple as defining them according to “Types.”  There is no instruction manual or rulebook to life.  But, sometimes these oversimplified blueprints of reality hint at the greater truth.  I believe that in the end, our Sierra mission, like life itself doesn’t easily fit into a simple list. But if I were to surmise I’d say that we reached into the realm of Type Three Fun.

The reason I’d say we achieved Type Three Fun is because of the immense joy I have gotten out of turning all of the silly hand held footage that I captured along our heinous sojourn into a short film that I am very proud of, called Sufferfest, which is currently touring the world as part of the Banff Mountain Film tour!  Check out the film and be the judge of what kind of fun we had!