The Campsite is excited to host this guest article by Christine Byl, author of “Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods” as part of her blog tour. You’ll have to scroll down for the book giveaway!
A few hours of mountain climbing turn a villain and a saint into two rather equal creatures. Exhaustion is the shortest way to equality and fraternity.
My best sleep usually comes after strenuous outdoor activity. A long skate ski, a multi-day mountain trip, hauling sled loads of firewood, it all works. My standard late-30s insomnia is much allayed by intense effort. But nothing comes close to the exhaustion I remember from my early trail crew days. I will never again sleep like I did as a 24-year old laborer who had just finished a 14-hour day hiking fast, running a saw, moving logs, and hucking brush. Back then I was a member of a National Park backcountry trail crew (in Glacier, to be precise) who made her money on 8-10 day field stints (hitches, we called them). I’ve never worked harder, or slept more deeply, than I did as a “traildog.”
I can still get tingly thinking about it, that level of utter physical exhaustion, the way I could move from upright to unconscious within seconds of being done making my lunch for the next day, my crewmate passed out in the bunk next to mine, face stuffed in her pillow like she was trying to suffocate herself. Sixteen years later I still work in the field, now primarily doing trail layout and design, and though I push myself plenty on my off days, too—occasionally even to muscle failure—nothing comes close to those long-ago comas. In the spirit of fond reminiscence, I offer the following categories of fatigue, the admirable state that indicates you’ve gone all in:
Pooped: This is what Nietzsche refers to in the quote above, a level of often-mutual exhaustion bonding a group that has pushed itself, together. Very common on a trail crew. The guy who usually annoys is endearing. Typical judgments fall away. You all smile loosely; eat until you’re too tired to chew.
Dead: You sleep like someone shot you in the back. You don’t remember falling asleep when you wake up 8 hours later. You feel like you began an afterlife.
Done: As in, “Stick a fork in me, I’m done.” This is the third week on an expedition, a few days in at high altitude, or the last day of a 10-day hitch. You can feel that the way you wield an axe is a danger to yourself and others. Time to go home, or take a rest day. One night’s sleep won’t fix this.
Whupped: This often goes hand-in-hand with pooped, but can also fit with others. Happens when a task (build bridge, ski marathon, high traverse) has tapped you but you look back at it with pride. It was worth it, even if you can’t lift your toothbrush.
Cooked: Awake enough to let your mind wander for a few minutes, but sleepy enough that your rational self floats away, you’re high on your own endorphin rush and drop. This kind of tired often produces brilliant realizations, or that feeling where the boundaries of the world seem to slip a little and you get what the Zen monks mean by egolessness.
Burnt: From burnt out: mentally “over it.” This state occasionally occurs without physical weariness and connotes cerebral exhaustion. Often happens as a result of intense focus, time spent on “the sharp end” (ie. lead climbing above your grade, juggling crew logistics, being in charge when something big is at stake.)
Punch Drunk: You can barely complete a task. Your limbs feel unattached. Similar to “cooked” in feeling of altered consciousness, but silly instead of serene. Best experienced in groups of equally tired companions.
Fried: Complete muscle failure, as in “my legs are fried.”
Bonked: One step past fried, only you’re not finished. (But you are.)
Fuzzy: (ie. “Hurry up with dinner, I’m getting fuzzy.”) Your edges start to go soft. This state descends like a curtain about an hour before you actually fall asleep; the anticipation is blissful.
Dog Tired: The type of sleep you sneak in at lunch break. Nappy enough to nod off for half an hour, but able to leap into action at the faintest suggestion of more work to do, it’s a trail crew specialty.
Here’s to working our asses off, in mountains, on trails, alone or with others, apprenticed to fresh air and the kind of exertion that clarifies priorities and clears away the scrim of languid-digital-fabricated-purchasable-hand-me-down life. And here’s to resting well.
Join Christine Byl on the next stop on the blog tour over at Half Past Done on Friday, April 26th!
What terms or expressions for total exhaustion would you add to Byl’s list?! Or, which of her’s is your favourite?
Please make sure you provide a valid email address or Twitter username when you comment so that I can get a hold of you. Contest open to residents of Canada and the USA only. The winner will be chosen randomly on Friday, May 3, at noon MST.
For a sneak peek, read the intro to Dirt Work.
About the Author:
Christine Byl lives on a few acres of tundra north of Denali National Park outside the town of Healy, Alaska, with her husband and an old sled dog. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and her stories and essays have appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies. She owns and operates a small trail design and construction business.