Do Hard Things

Hey'all! Where have I been?!

It's a long story, and probably not that interesting. It boils down to other things have been occupying my time, and I am trying to improve how I manage my time. Alas, I am itching to return to this website; even more so since the anniversary of its launch passed a week ago. And I've had an idea: use this platform to show off all the stuff I'm doing, regardless of whether it relates directly to science. Afterall, the name of the game is EIBENSPACE, the space characteristic of one Aaron Eiben. That's me, and this is my space, so I'll do with it whatever I want! I guess that was the idea behind MySpace, and in principle, Facebook, but this is better than Facebook because I'm in charge. You all should start your own websites, too. That'll show 'em!

Anyway, allow me to share with you what I did last Wednesday, and to do that properly, I must start at the beginning of June. On the first Monday of that month, I received an email inviting me to sign up for The Strenuous Life, to which I affectionately refer as "Man Scouts." What is TSL, one might ask? To see, let us go straight to the source:

The Strenuous Life is a structured program designed to push individuals beyond their comfort zone and develop every aspect of who they are. Adherents are expected to train their bodies with vigorous exercise, train their minds and muscles by learning new skills, and train their souls by living a life of service-seeking virtue.

In short, it’s a platform designed to facilitate skill acquisition and personal development.

Think of it as a scouting program for grown men.

As I said, "Man Scouts."

Part of the program involves weekly challenges designed to push you out of your comfort zone physically and mentally. These are called "Agons," and I don't want to share too much detail, as I get the impression that they are kind of secret. Not "Top Secret," per se, but secret enough that a member of the program shouldn't have too much forewarning of what they must face before the challenge is upon them. But, alas, to describe this adequately, I must provide some detail as to what it is that I had to do. Please forgive me.

For this past week, Danny Clark of MovNat (Natural Movement) was recruited to design a challenge to get one outside and moving in a way our prehistoric ancestors would appreciate. The first task was to find a big rock, weighing at least fifty pounds, and carry it for a quarter of a mile. If you were looking for a challenge, carry it a half-mile. Use proper form and don't hurt yourself; experience with barbell training would come in handy here. Next, find a tall tree branch, ledge, etc., something from which you can hang fully extended without touching the ground, and hang from it--for two minutes--taking small breaks as needed to reset your grip. Afterward, for an extra challenge, hang again but get your feet up to the same level as your hands. Then drop them down and do it again, five times in total. After that, find something long, narrow, and sturdy, such as a downed tree, and walk along its length for at least eight feet. Then, return from whence you came, but walk backward. Oh, and after each step, squat down so that your butt touches your back heel. Then stand up and take your next step. Again, for an added challenge, do this from a height that frightens you, and/or bring your rock along for the ride. Next, find a very low obstacle and crawl under it, back and forth, first on your stomach, back and forth, and then on your back, back and forth. For the extra challenge, take off your shirt. Walk a mile barefoot. Or, in my case, do the whole thing barefoot. Be smart, don't injure yourself, but don't hesitate to take the rougher path. Jump from one rock to another, and make sure the two rocks are at least six heel-toe distances apart. Do it barefoot. Finally, climb a tree, a tall tree, one that gives you pause. For the extra challenge, do it again, to prove how strong you were as a kid.

Sounds easy, right? I was looking forward to it, though I wasn't sure I would be able to find a rock of sufficient weight that wouldn't be too flat and broad to handle comfortably. (Cincinnati bedrock is sedimentary limestone, mudstone, and shale.) But alas comfort wasn't the point, and my worries proved to be unfounded.

So, Wednesday afternoon, a friend messaged me saying she wanted to get out and practice photography, but she didn't want to do it alone. "Perfect!" I thought, "I need to go for a hike." We made plans to meet that evening at the California Woods Nature Preserve, and upon arrival, we were greeted by the following sight.

"Perfect!" I said, "I'm gonna hang from that bridge." And that is what I did.

"I'm just hanging out."

Subsequently, I put my feet up.

My next goal was to find a sufficient rock. Again, I was concerned about finding a rock of the required weight that wouldn't be too unwieldy, but as fortune would have it, my worry was based on an underestimate of the density of limestone. The first stone I lifted took me by surprise. "Jesus," I exclaimed, "this thing weighs at least a hundred pounds." While I briefly considered accepting that as an added challenge, I ultimately decided it would be in my best interest to start with something manageable and, over time, work my way up. So, I picked up a rock about half the size of the first one.

Unfortunately, however, I forgot to bring a scale so I couldn't be sure that my rock sufficed. So, I considered its weight for a moment and concluded that it felt heavier than a 45 lb plate. I then eyed the downed trees nearby.

Of course, I also neglected to bring a tape measure, so I verified there was a clear path of at least eight feet using the only standard available.

Then, I walked.

But that turned out not to be strenuous enough. I wanted a narrower ledge, and I wanted to bring my rock friend along for the ride. I also didn't want to die, so the elevation couldn't be too high. Another tree sufficed.

Next up, the rock jump, which when considering the possibility of my bare feet slipping on a wet creek stone and my head then connecting with an adjacent stone, was most concerning. That didn't stop me from trying, of course.

I made several jumps across two stone that I left otherwise undisturbed, but afterward, I decided that they weren't quite far enough apart. Upon moving them to the requisite distance, I felt they were a bit too far apart. "Best not kill myself just yet," I thought, so I took my rock and went for a walk.

First to a cabin in the woods.

Then I hit a fork in the road.

Which way should I go? The path of most resistance, obviously.

I kept watch for low obstacles, and eventually, I found one that would suffice.

After thoroughly scraping along the ground, it occurred to me that I had forgotten my provisions. Thus, I had to do it again.

Now, I was sufficiently dirty to have no use for my shirt. So, into the bag it went.

And off we went.

Tremendous fun was had by all, and soon enough we had walked a mile.


All that remained was to master the rock jump and climb a tree, and there were more suitable rocks for jumping than trees for climbing in the woods, even if I did have to do a bit of re-arranging.

After convincing myself that I could jump between two rocks the requisite distance apart without slipping and falling, I tried it again over more natural terrain.

And then finally between two rocks that I had otherwise not disturbed.

The time had come to climb a tree. But, alas, trees in the woods tend not to have branches that are accessible to mere mortals. Thus, we set off to find a field in which bushier trees made their homes. I also put my shirt back on.

Thus a successful evening was had by all, pending confirmation that my rock weighed at least fifty pounds. So, I found a scale.

Nailed it.

Nailed it.

Four different scales gave the same result. Therefore, I was satisfied and marked the challenge complete.

I spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid, and not nearly enough time since then. This adventure was a good reminder of that. It was also the first time I lugged a fifty pound rock through the forest, but it won't be the last. Nor will it be the last time I hike barefoot, for I had too much fun to do anything less.

Thanks to my good friend Andrea W. for the company and for the pictures, and for first asking what the rock's name was. After a moment's thought, I settled on Peter.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see y'all again soon.