05/26/2015 04:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In the Pursuit of Discomfort


It was a beautiful day for some self-imposed suffering. I was tackling mile twelve of sixteen in one of Orange County's many canyons, and my calf muscles felt like they were peeling away from my bones--anything to escape my prickling, miserable body.

I heaved a sigh, and let the steady metronome of my steps drag to a momentary halt. My head turned with a comical sluggishness, as if my neck was somehow tired from all the strain my legs were bearing.

"Corny? Why are we doing this?"

My aunt wasn't faring any better than I was. Her brand new mountaineering boots were strangling her ankles, and we had run out of water three miles ago. She gave me a wordless shrug--talking expended precious energy.

"Walking sucks," I grumbled. "Especially the uphill kind."

We burst into a fit of weak laughter, tinged by the insanity that often accompanies exhaustion. "Well, this is practically Kilimanjaro," Corny said wryly, "Except for the perfect weather, and, you know, the fact that we can actually breathe at this altitude." Our laughter devolved from thin giggles into full-on, meaty guffaws, and we pushed forward, our soles crunching rhythmically in the dirt.

What have we signed ourselves up for?

It's something I've asked myself many times; while staring grimly at my dwindling checking account, amidst pressing bandages over my blistered feet, and upon realizing that I can barely traverse a flat surface without finding something to trip over. Are we insane?

Perhaps. However, beneath this playful inquiry is a serious one: Why do we put ourselves in situations that call for discomfort? Why did we choose to climb a mountain, instead of opting for four weeks of daily spa treatment in Palm Springs at the same cost?*

The answer has little to do with masochism, and everything to do with personal growth. I have spent two years resting comfortably in the bubble that is university life, and will return for another two in August. The safe harbor that USC has offered me is both a blessing and a hazard. When you're sitting in a lecture hall, it is too easy for the world to seem like a manageable size, and for your problems to feel far more important than they really are.

I am not climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in search of an epiphany, or even to reach the 19,341-foot summit. Rather, I climb because I hope to experience a broadening of perspective that could never happen behind a desk or a computer screen. I want to feel simultaneously small and substantial; insignificant in the grand scheme of things, yet integral to the world around me.

If I had a dollar for every time I questioned my summer plans, I could probably afford to do this trip a second time. But I know with absolute conviction that if truly given the opportunity, I wouldn't turn back.

*Yes, I did the math--four weeks of Palm Springs would be cheaper. Yes, this hurts my brain too.

This is the second in a series of posts that will describe my climb to the Roof of Africa. Here is the first, if you're interested. We leave for Tanzania on Wednesday, May 27th.