Day 32 Silverthorn to Breckenridge…and back

Today we set out to climb from Silverthorn, CO to the campground just past Boreas pass, elevation 11,481 ft.  It is the highest pass on the entire Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and we were eager to complete it. However, as we made our way up the gradual grade on paved bike paths, through Frisco (a small town just north of Breckenridge, CO) , a realization came upon the two of us independantly. It was seeming like a chore. Personally, I was excited to accomplish the highest divide crossing on the trip, but I was fresh out of enthusiasm to do it. There had been arduous times in the past and this was no different from that perspective. Sure, it might be difficult physically, but that wasn’t the reason for the lack of enthusiasm. There was just no fire left. Both Deborah and I had important things to attend to back in Washington, and that seemed to occupy our minds as we trudged up the moderate grade towards Breckenridge. On reaching a little park on the outskirts of town we took a moment to break. She had to make some phone calls to her employer, giving me time for reflection on the trip thus far. It was midday and the person she needed to contact was on lunch break. ‘Doesn’t anyone work anymore’, I thought. A strange thought for someone 32 days into a mountain biking “vacation.” But there it was, the real world imposing its will on me. I could feel the palpable stress of the 80 hour work week, the standard work hour restriction for medical residents, put in place not to make life easier for the new doctors, but to help prevent the untimely death of these valuable assets. Deborah and I decided to take a lunch break in Breckenridge and talk things over. Looking around at all the people enjoying their free time, the amenities their personal financial world provided them. Here we were, two doctors, supposedly one of the highest paid eschelon careers in the US, and we were both struggling financially. But it was more than that. It was the poverty of free time. Like in medical school, I felt once again that my time had been imprisoned away from me. I had graduated from high school in 1988. Here it was 2008, 20 years later and I was confident that I had dedicated more time in the pursuit of medicine than most people devote to their entire careers in the totality of their lives. The worst of it was the paucity of free time. That is why it was so imprisoning. An 80 hour work week takes at least 100 hours away from you, since at least 20 hours a week is spent studying, commuting, whatever. Considering that the average person only gets 5-6 hours of free time a day, and we only get 2 hours or so, leeching another hour or two a day, takes all of what you have left. 20 years is a long time to sacrifice. I’ve wondered how the biggest tragedies would differ… The innocent man who spends 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The political prisoner, the meat of his life stolen subsequent to his voiced ideals. Nelson Mandela? Surely, there was no comparison. And yet, here I am. Childless, impoverished, with the meat of my life stolen from me. All because I wanted to help people. All because I put other peoples’ strife above my own. Where was my ‘doctor’, to fix my personal ills? Where was the judge who could make right from wrong? Where was the magician who could give me back the investment I had lost. How could I heal the scar that I now found trespassed my degenerating body? I knew one thing. As bad as it sounds, I would never let my body become as unhealthy as it had in the intervening years. I would never let my mind be so unhappy. I would never let my emotion, my spirit, flounder so much in my life’s pursuit. I am in it for the long haul, the healer role that I have embraced. It is clear that it does no one any good to burn out before one’s time. So these are the thoughts that have been surpressed for the last several years. Thoughts that could not be let out, because to acknowledge them would give them the power to overtake me, and all could be lost. Thoughts that it took 2000 hard miles on a bike, to release. And now, dutifully pedaling along,  I understood why I resisted climbing Boreas Pass. It was a goal that had been laid out months before. To climb it or not climb it was not a current decision, it was a duty. Just as the last 20 years of my life, and surely many more, would be a duty. But what about duty to myself? To my family, whom I have hardly seen these last decades. To love? What about those duties? Everything had been put on the backburner, a second class citizen to Almighty “Medicine”. No more, I cried inside! No more! Today, I would not climb Boreas Pass. Today Deborah and I would turn around right here and right now. Tomorrow’s path is uncertain, but today I would make a choice. And that choice would not be constrained by duty, by external or internal expectation, but by life. By my living spirit to choose as I would, and enjoy this beautiful gift we have all been given. Today, we would rest, not just our bodies, but our spirits. And tomorrow, because of the choices of today, I would be whole again. But that is another day, and I would not shackle it with the lamentations of this day.

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