On Day three I woke up and dug deeper into the meditation. I experienced tingling and some stiffness but I’m still holding back a tad so tomorrow I plan to go deeper. We did “snow-ga,” today which is yoga in the snow. My feet felt better until I came in. After an hour, all of a sudden my toes started turning yellow and numb and tingly which someone said is apparently called after-drop. Thankfully one of the gals was kind enough to give me an awesome foot massage which got the blood flowing and after 20 minutes I was ready just in time for the hike.
The big outdoor cold challenge for today is an outdoor hike. Of course this is no ordinary hike, instead we will be hiking t the Czech/Polish boarder up a large mountain with nothing but shorts and boots. While this sounds gnarly, it’s sunny out and I could use some exercise so I’m not too stressed about it. At least we get to wear boots!!! I’ll check in after it’s over.
Ok, I’m back and I must report that the hike was one of the most intense experiences of my life, hands down. The hike pushed the limits of fear and physical barriers in a way I had never experienced before. We hiked 13 kilometers up a mountain to the polish Czech boarder in the freezing cold with boots and shorts on, no shirts or hats or gloves. Local Polish folks were hiking in full outdoor gear taking our pictures along the way because it was freezing, literally. It was so cold that my camel-pac water bag and water line literally froze up and I couldn’t drink it at all. I will admit that it first kicked off with an amazing start.
The sun was peeking out and morale was high in the group. All the while, Wim just kept his cool and maintained a steady breathing pattern the whole time. I felt he was being a wee bit dramatic because the sun was out and I felt awesome despite the cold! That is, until the sun went down and road got steeper and far more wretched. We had to put spikes on our boots to make it up the mountain due to extreme conditions with snow and ice. About two hours in, arms and hands stopped moving about freely and every step became a challenge. I was so in my head and worried about frostbite that I almost gave myself a panic attack!
Everyone was bright red and some even purple and the use of the hands got to the point where it was nearly gone and so all we could do was focus on the breath to keep charging forward. We all held our hands behind our backs to try and shield them from the wind which was slamming into our bodies and faces at a speed way faster than I was comfortable with. My chest and face was so numb that the pain dulled down to a light sting and then went away almost completely. That was when things got scary for me. Ironically when the pain went away I got scared. I kept trying to move parts of my body to make sure they still worked and as my motor functions slowed down and gradually faded, so did my morale and even a part of my sanity. Everything went from smiles and laughs to doom and gloom within what seemed like moments but in retrospect was over the course of hours.
In the midst of this moment of doubt, my buddy Leon who I was walking with started gushing blood out of his nose like a faucet… He started stuffing snow up his nose to stop the bleeding and then got back on the path and continued hiking and didn’t seem to mind as all. I think it was the altitude that started the bleeding and this did wonders to break down my confidence and morale even further. I was walking next to a man covered in blood in the middle of nowhere with no clue when this “hike” was going to end. What is up with these crazy Europeans?
I know that many of them have been training for this over the past 6 months and I am clearly unprepared. I’m the only American here, perhaps for good reason, maybe all the other Americans were smart enough NOT to go on a Polish adventure in the freezing cold? Most of my peers, along with myself at the moment, would rather spend a week off of work in sunny Jamaica at a nice all inclusive getting hammered while I was trudging up this godforsaken path that never seemed to end.
How was Leon so calm and collected after having his nose explode like a water balloon? Also why the hell is he still walking and looking poised while I am now freaking out inside my own head? At this point I had to talk myself forward for every additional step I took. For a brief moment I even thought about bailing but then I realized I had no clue how to get back and we were hours into this hike so I really had no choice. There’s nothing like having ZERO options to keep you motivated and moving forward. Damn you Wim Hof! Damn you Haj for trying to be a tough guy and coming on this ridiculous trip in the first place… At this point needless to say I was not a happy hiker… Then, at what appeared to be my darkest moment as of yet, my Irish friend Dara walked beside me with a big smile on his face and said “Haj, you’re not smiling, stay out of your head man. Just breathe! That’s all there’s room for up here, that’s the whole point man!”
I believe in God as an expression of the Universe, the Totality, all that is, and was, and ever will be, unrestricted by time and space. I also believe that the expression I am referring to takes on a consciousness by way of the independent lives we live. Almost as if each one of our lives has the same relationship to God’s consciousness as does a synapse in the human brain. A synapse that transfers the electrical impulses that make up our thoughts and ideas to allow for conscious thinking as a human. I believe that in certain moments, God, the Universe, perhaps my own highest consciousness, whatever force infinitely more wise and powerful than the “I” in my head in that moment, sent Dara to share that message with me because it was all that I needed. All my fitness training meant nothing and every step felt like torture until I regained my sense of purpose and agency and I remembered the simple fact that I wanted to be here. I reminded myself that I would rather die or lose a limb than to give up or act like a weak minded slug in this moment. It was MY moment and I then knew I needed to own it and just breathe…
I immediately shut off my brain and started a slow and steady breath pattern and stopped paying attention to the worry of frostbite and the fears of the moment. I felt powerful, it felt good. No, it felt amazing! After a while I could feel my ears thawing out a bit and my morale brightened up even more. After what must have been another hour, Wim finally shouted “we are almost there!” A small group of us started sprinting, and then after 20 steps of painful movement we slowed down and realized we were a bit over zealous and instead of sprinting, we methodically jogged to the summit!
The last 100 meters was brutal, there was no tree cover and we were all getting beaten down by fierce winds and brutal cold. I have felt this kind of cold at the top of many mountains while skiing except in those scenarios I had on full ski gear with high end coats and gloves and in this moment I was dressed for a surf trip in Hawaiian style patterned board shorts… We waited for the group and realized that perhaps running up was not such a great idea. In any event we had reached the summit and we were all now allowed to put our coats on (which were tucked in our backpacks) for the long descent.
By the time the others joined us at the summit, literally not one of us could even put our hands in the sleeves to put coats on to walk back down. It took a bunch of team work to slowly work our frozen limbs into our pants and jackets and gloves to start warming up. David, my ex-private equity analyst turned Buddhist vegan friend, who was somewhat emaciated to begin with, was almost completely purple and started talking gibberish… Without even thinking, Dennis gave him his coat for extra warmth and continued down the mountain with no coat. A few of us jogged down the mountain with him to make sure he was alright. This experience was the definition of gnarly. This was not easy. If you aren’t meditating and breathing, these extreme conditions will absolutely break you. I think that was the point.
Wim is putting us in scenarios where he is forcing our hand into getting out of our neo-cortex and flipping the automatic switch into manual and literally taking the wheel of our “autonomic” nervous system and controlling our bodies every step of the way. I stopped my focused breathing on the way down and started freezing even with a coat on! This just goes to show how powerful the mind is. The Wim Hof method puts your body in literal hell (temporary hell) and forces your spirit to enable and facilitate survival. This was an epic experience in the truest sense of the word.
Btw David is totally fine and psyched! This is not wreck-less abandonment of safety. Wim knows what he is doing. He is simply showing us what humans are capable of.
While I am sort of looking forward to what tomorrow brings I hope we go a little easier as my body needs a day to recover…
***These pics are from the beginning of the hike, fingers didn’t work at the summit