The Irony of our Pursuit: As Told from the Trail

The quest, the journey, a calling for a challenge.

Earlier this year I went on a hike down to the Colorado River from the Rim of the Grand Canyon. My dad and I had a l o t of time to think on this trail. The 8 hour hike down was exhausting. I don’t remember if it was the way down or up but we started chatting about why people actually put their bodies through this enervation. Our entire body was just in fatigue, every joint and every muscle, it was excruciating.

But there we were in complete struggle, pushing through the pain, absolutely knowing what we signed up for.

Now let me back up, I do enjoy hiking, being out in the great wide, in nature, seeing new landscapes. After all we are human beings and were born into the wild. We always should take time to go back into the wild, to reconnect, and find ourselves.

While researching for a book I’m writing, I came across a source that fuels this very thought on the trail, El Dorado, by Robert Louis Stevenson, a section in An Essay in Four Parts. The experience I had on the trail with my dad truly connected with this essay, we didn’t know when the end would be, but it was a extraordinary trek, we shared together.

During the Age of Exploration true leaders actually sought out on these huge expeditions, across continents to find treasure. El Dorado as we know is a mythical utopia, but in the 1500’s people thought it was a reality.

In the sixth essay, El Dorado, the author ponders on the promise… the realities of everyday, “a life-long struggle towards an unattainable ideal.”

“…There is no end, indeed, to making books or experiments, or to travel, or to gathering wealth. Problem gives rise to problem. We may study for ever, and we are never as learned as we would. We have never made a statue worthy of our dreams. And when we have discovered a continent, or crossed a chain of mountains, it is only to find another ocean or another plain upon the further side…….

There is only one wish realizable on the earth; only one thing that can be perfectly attained: Death. And from a variety of circumstances we have no one to tell us whether it be worth attaining.

A strange picture we make on our way to our chimaeras, ceaselessly marching, grudging ourselves the time for rest; indefatigable, adventurous pioneers. It is true that we shall never reach the goal; it is even more than probable that there is no such place; and if we lived for centuries and were endowed with the powers of a god, we should find ourselves not much nearer what we wanted at the end. O toiling hands of mortals! O unwearied feet, travelling ye know not whither! Soon, soon, it seems to you, you must come forth on some conspicuous hilltop, and but a little way further, against the setting sun, descry the spires of El Dorado. Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

The author is basically saying the quest is about hope and the process. He plays with the idea that we are all trying to find El Dorado, this false mythical city, where gold lies, but in the process we get lost, in a never-ending rat race and detached from the truth.

The essay (in my eyes as if going on a rugged hike through life) is a mediation on the paradox of our pursuits:  You must live, and focus only on the journey, because that’s all we have.

It’s more than just the adventure, there is no scientist that can produce the feeling, no great composer can match it, and no great writer that can describe it. You simply must go out, and live it.

El Dorado:


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