The Single Hardest Thing
Challenging your own limits on your own terms
The more that I write this new Substack, the more I find myself sharing more of my own stories. This would make sense because I call this Stories in the Half Dark, that is, stories from my perspective of being a moderately blind person. If you are not aware, I have only one functioning eye and that eye does not work all that well.
The following story reflects how I try and work within my limitations to do the things that I want to do despite my limitations.
Some limitations are imposed on me by other people and there is little I can do about that. However, I relate this story from my high school years and with the help of one of my few friends who we will call “C”.
C was a fairly typical middle-class, rural white kid. His mother was a nurse and C liked computers, science fiction an classic trucks, like a lot of kids of that time and place. For about 3 years, we did a lot together. We shot pool at a local bar, hung out and played with technology, told a lot of lies to each other and once we were both caught in a hailstorm while cycling.
This story starts soon after C gets his driver’s license.
One day C calls me up and asks me an unexpected question, “Would you like to go cross country skiing?”
After a short paused, I replied, “It is something I have wanted to try.”
We agreed on the next weekend. When he picked me up, we drove to the rental shop and selected our gear. I chose what gear I was pointed to and made sure that my boots fit. We tossed it all in the back of the station wagon and drove the 30-40 miles into Lassen National Park to catch a moderately easy cross country trail. It was somewhat rolling with no major climbs or drops. It was five miles long which I knew was long for my first time but I was in fairly good shape so thought I would be fine.
C had done this before so he knew what to do. Up until that time I had only been snowshoeing and sledding. I knew about snow but it was not something I knew well. I had hiked up Mount Lassen several times and had even fallen into a hole through the snow pack to land in a hidden ankle-deep runnel of water. That drop was about 9, just a bit further than anyone could reach.
Skiing was new to me. I had a few ideas but it was all theoretical up until that day.
When we arrived at the trailhead it did not take us long to get going. The helpful people at the rental shop did show me how to do everything and C helped me with things I missed.
The day was nearly flat grey. The sky was grey, the light was grey the snow was white and the trees were a darker shade of grey that sometimes looked almost black. When we started it was not snowing but there was fresh snow from the night before. I do not know how good the snow was for skiing but we did not have too much trouble moving along.
Move along we did. I was enjoying the new experience and the different sort of exercise that cross country provides. During some sections I even was able to experience a little of the thrill of downhill. We talked and skied and soon we made it to the halfway point. We were required to make a sharp turn onto the forest road that headed back towards the parking lot and this is where the first thing went wrong for me.
I lifted my foot to execute a turn and my ski and boot did not follow. I fell over. C did not laugh, only offered to help if I needed it.
I get my foot back into my boot, along with more than a little bit of snow and then discovered that my fingers were too cold to bend well. My numb and cold fingers managed to get things hooked up again but not well. After a while I have to repeat the procedure again, although without falling at least. Then a while later I did it again. Each time I get moving again but each time it is harder because the boot fits less well.
I was confident that I would make it to the trailhead but certainly not quickly. I slogged my way through the snow. I am still skiing but it has become a lot of work.
Since the last little bit of the trail is a straight run down the road I send C ahead of me to get the car ready. Could he have helped me put my boot to rights? Likely but I can sometimes be stubborn that way. I’ll do it my way even if it is not the easiest or fastest way. Besides, I had figured out a system finally that kept me moving without losing my boot, so may as well keep going.
At one point along that road it started to snow quite heavily and I contemplated the stories I heard about people vanishing during snow storms. I knew that was not going to happen to me but I thought about being so lost. The road I was following was wide enough that if I skied down the center and the snow became thick enough I could imagine being lost. I felt that I had some basic survival skills and had some idea of how to survive even in the cold. My lack of experience showed though in my choice of gloves and how they provided me no protection from the cold and were especially less then helpful after they became wet from the melting snow.
I eventually arrived at C’s car, opened the passenger door and kicked my right boot onto the floor of the passenger side. Snow spilled out.
I chuckled, sat and massaged my foot to warm it and my hands up a bit before I took the rest of the gear off.
I said something like, “Well, that did not go quite as well as I had planned.”
That was hard but a hard I took upon myself and hope that if I get the chance to go cross-country skiing again I will have this experience to reflect on and not make the same mistakes again.
This story is what I first though about while I was soldering a few days ago. Learning to solder has been one of the most challenging things for me. I use magnification and can use techniques that minimize the natural twitching of my hands but the most challenging aspect of soldering is the solder itself.
Solder can be a fairly dull wire when you unspool it. When it melts though it becomes very shiny, slightly reflective and that is the problem. Solder melts at a rather low temperature but is still far too hot to touch. The shiny nature of the material makes it hard to judge the shape and size of what has melted when you are looking through a single perspective camera under bright lights.
Anyone who looks at my soldering can clearly see that I am quite the novice but I think I am doing a little bit better each time. Certainly, not too bad for someone who has 20/200 vision and only one eye to work with.
I have decided that soldering, for me, is the single hardest thing that I willingly and repeatedly do. I do it not only because I want to make stuff but I do it because I want to challenge myself.
However I am reaching out to people who solder because some things may just be too challenging to me to tackle on my own. I have been frustrated lately and that tends to slow me down. Because I only want to have one project going at a time, that slows down all the other things that I want to do. I am hoping that someone will step up to help me so that I can get my projects moving. At first I was thinking to abandon the whole thing all together but that would not be what I really want. I am hoping that I can find someone with some basic electronics experience to help me get over my roadblocks.