Survival Stress

Sometimes, selfies are worth the stress.

Survival Stress Defying All Reason on Greenland's Tundra

What’s the point of stress?

Not the forgot-to-pay-the-phone-bill or missed-your- girlfriend’s-birthday kind of stress (not that those aren’t important), but that life-or-death primordial stress.

I can honestly say I was stressed out when I took this self-portrait. It was about 8 p.m. on the third day of a bike traverse in the Greenland backcountry, and I had been on the move for 13 hours. The last thing I wanted to do was set up my camera for a photo, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.

I was alone on a 125-mile, point-to-point crossing of a route that, to my knowledge, had never been attempted on a bike during the snow-free months. I had found some semblance of a trail pounded into the tundra by reindeer hooves, but the terrain still consisted mostly of soggy bogs and mechanical-bull-style rock gardens. It had taken me four hours and a lot of swearing to navigate through a half-mile-long talus field earlier that day. It was mid-September, so I was losing 20 minutes of daylight every day to the encroaching winter and the mercury was dropping to 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night. My 30-degree sleeping bag was no longer cutting it.

The last weather forecast I had heard was for a hurricane to make landfall in the form of a violent blizzard, striking in the next day or so and lasting an undetermined length of time. Any kind of snow would make navigation nearly impossible on the subtly featured tundra. Oh, and there was a polar bear sighted in the fjord I had just skirted and I had nothing more lethal than a pocketknife for self-defense.

I was self-filming my endeavor and things were not going as smoothly as I had thought they would. It was an MEC Expedition Grant that had enabled me to get to Greenland in the first place, and I couldn’t come back empty-handed. Struggling to find the balance between covering ground and getting enough usable footage was proving challenging, and I grappled with the agony of passing up shots I wanted to get and feeling anxious when I stopped to film, given that I was losing ground on the impending storm.

I was operating at a heightened level and buzzing like I had a steady supply of caffeine coursing through my veins. Sure, I could have turned around or decided not to film, but I felt an obligation to myself to see this project through. And honestly, I enjoyed the liberating feeling of choosing something dangerous over a safer option.

This type of stress is necessary to push through our fears, allowing us to become hyper-focused and overcome mental and physical boundaries, when all we really want to do is stop. Stress is our natural response to situational pressures, especially when they are perceived to be dangerous or life-threatening.

It was the stress I was feeling that allowed me to get this photo—and then to push on for another week after I had to ration my food because of my sluggish pace and the need to wait out the storm. Sometimes, stress is just what you need.