The Five Levels of Suckfest
“This is going to be awesome and it’s going to totally suck.” There is a special breed of outdoor enthusiast who can use the words fun and suck to describe the exact same adventure. Our relationship with the outdoors is really built on an equally dual combination of love and hate. In 2016, I decided that a 40-mile hike in a day was a good idea that was going to awesomely suck. Around mile 27ish, during what is now classified as a level 4 suckfest, we created a scale to define and categorize how badly something sucks.
Level 0: Sunshine, rainbows, and dancing unicorns giving you $20 bills. Everybody wants to be you; even you want to be you. Nothing sucks and you can’t even imagine life ever sucking.
Level 1: Minor pains and inconveniences that slightly affect your life but only for a minimal amount of time. At this stage, the situation doesn’t really suck; it’s more of an unfortunate occurrence. Stubbing your toe, a small insignificant blister, not being able to instantly post something cool you did on Instagram. A level 1 suckfest should be a fleeting moment. If you are stuck at this level for any amount of time, put your big girl yoga pants on and get over it.
Level 2: The pain and annoyance is real, it does affect your life, you can only ignore it for so long, and morale fluctuates. Slicing your finger with a knife, burning your mouth on hot pizza, dropping anything on your foot, finishing a show you've been binge watching on Netflix. Life sucks, no doubt, but you’ve been here before, and you know it won’t last forever so you just have to endure. At level 2, you can still remember that the sun shines and unicorns gave you money which gives you the encouragement you need to persevere.
Level 3: Life is bad, pain and annoyance are high and morale is low. You think you’re in Level 5 and that it's the worst thing you've ever done in your life, but you know you’re not in level 5 because you have the option to either end or lessen the pain: Hiking uphill with a heavy pack and the top is nowhere in sight, multiple days of insomnia, having to poop really bad but the seatbelt sign is on. Level 3 is where your mental fortitude and physical endurance go to battle to see if which taps out first, willpower or pain.
Level 4: Life is real, real bad, the pain is real and present in your mind, but you’re with friends so morale is actually higher than level 3. Any extended outdoor adventures that involve large headwinds, high mileage and/or elevation changes, a sleeping bag that doesn’t keep you warm, any moment where you feel like life really sucks, but your friends help you laugh about it. At level 4, you’ve had the pain so long you’re almost used to it. It is here that irrational talk and laughter is the only thing that makes sense and you know for sure you’ll always come back to this moment and remember it with a smile.
Level 5: Life is the worst it can get and nothing and no one can make it better. It's a personal journey of suffering, where others can only bear witness to the pain and be there in case you recede back into level 4. In these moments, you think you’re dying, but you’re not, so you know the pain isn't going away and it takes everything you have to keep going. Level 5 is where you discover the stubborn survivor inside yourself, and the idiot for getting yourself into this situation.
I won’t ever hike 40 miles in a day again. Miles 35-39 were a Level 5 suckfest and I have no desire to intentionally experience that again. But that desire to hike 40 miles in a day will manifest itself into another form and challenge because I love the beauty, confidence, and sense of accomplishment I find through the eyes of adversity and resiliency.
We all have the opportunity to define what adventure and outdoor exploration means to us and we all have different thresholds of how we would classify experiences into these different levels. No judgment should ever be given because someone likes to experience the natural world differently than we do. So why should you seek out any level of suckfest? There is a special beauty on the other side of adversity where we often find a better, stronger, more capable version of ourselves. Level 1 separates the dreamers and the doers, level 2 is where you learn your stronger than you think you are, greatness, confidence, and mental grit are discovered in level 3, the greatest friendships and bonds are built through level 4, and the overcomers, champions, and self-aware are forged through the pain of level 5. Suckfests are where the great stories and memories are created because no one remembers, enjoys, or is inspired by the story of a perfectly easy adventure where everything went right. It is here that you learn that sometimes the view isn’t worth the hike but the hike is worth that hike.
“ No great story ever started with this one time I did this perfectly easy thing where everything went right and I wasn’t challenged at all…” - Lara Patterson
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