Today as I write this I am 63 hours into a 72 Hour Water Fast. I’ve only ever endured a 24 hour fast before and it has been some time since then. I’m doing it for a number of reasons not necessarily in this order. The first reason is for the mental challenge—mind over matter. The second reason is for the health benefits as noted by multiple other bloggers. The third reason is to encourage my prayer life. So let’s explore each of my reasons and how it applies to mountaineering.
The first reason as it applies to Mountaineering is the mental challenge. I remember climbing my first big hill with my forever friend Isaiah in August of 2005. We hiked in to a camping spot below Hagues’ Peak, CO. around late afternoon on a misty and rainy day. It was our first long hike and climb and so we invariably had not planned well enough in terms of food. I will always say men learn best through experience. We enjoyed a MRE meal (before I knew what hydrogenated oil and artificial everything was) and crashed early in preparation for tomorrow’s climb to the summit. We had approximately 3000’ to go up steep and rocky terrain. It was difficult going and slower than anticipated. The top never seemed to get closer. At one point we did what everyone does in an endeavor– you look at each other, look ahead at the trial still to come, look back at the easier way down that ends the pursuit. There is that part in a man where mental stubbornness begins to do battle with that weakness called the body. We looked to the summit and pushed on. At the top there is jubilation, however it is only half of the battle! We still need to get all the way down. By mid-day and with almost ten miles still to go we are out of food. I can recall talking about food the entire way back. We took a ridiculous selfie once back at the faithful Honda Civic and drove straight to Subway! I can tell you several other stories of mountaineering adventures through the years that I have shared with friends and family. The theme is always the same. It is always a mental challenge to beat your body into overcoming the mountain. Even packing enough food it will be a trial. It will be a mental challenge as you gaze at the peak that never seems to get closer. Day three of this fast has been the most difficult. I am closer than ever to completing the fast, but am faced with the temptation every moment of ending it early. I chose to walk a three and a half mile loop on quiet back roads. It was good. It transported me back to remembering long arduous climbs, hungry, tired, but persevering through the trial of the mountain. The trial is sheer joy. It is mind over matter. Pressure makes diamonds. The fast keeps my mind ready for the next mountaineering adventure. Try it and see!
The second reason I am doing this fast is for the health benefits. According to an article by Steven Salzberg commenting on a couple of studies he states that “fasting (or starvation) forces your body to ‘recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed’ which explains the drop in the white blood cell count. Two of the key mechanisms are an enzyme called PKA and a hormone called IGF-1, both of which are reduced by fasting. Once you start eating again, your stem cells kick back into high gear to replenish the cells that were recycled.” We never seem to give our body a break from eating. The system is constantly working and never seems to hit a reset. Almost like a vacation from work it seems our bodies benefit greatly from a “vacation” of sorts from eating. After a three day fast the body has cleansed itself of toxins, reset the immune system for the body, and cleared the mind of clutter and junk as the individual doing the fast is forced to focus on the task. Let Us Reason puts it like this: “Fasting does have a rejuvenation effect on the body. Nearly all animals instinctively fast when they are ill, when we fast our organs and glands get a much-needed rest. The body is able to concentrate on other things besides digestion. The Bible refers to “fasting” with spiritual goals in mind. In a general sense fasting can give us control over the weaknesses of our flesh we normally may not have. In a more specific sense fasting can help you concentrate on spiritual matters. We set aside our everyday activity to concentrate on the Lord.” As a man I need my body at its peak to perform the tasks at hand including the ability to climb the mountains of life put before me by the LORD. The body is a gift given to me. As a steward of it I seek its wellbeing through a 72 hour fast.
The third reason I choose to do this lengthy fast is for the spiritual benefit. At every moment I’m faced with a pang of hunger I pray for the strength to carry on. I know that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul wrote these words while sitting in prison almost 2000 years ago. He was dealing with some pretty tough times as he sought to spread the Gospel. It was not his strength he leaned on. He recognized that the strength he had was given to him from Someone higher and thus gave God the glory for the accomplishment. Today while walking I asked for the strength and healing to carry on. I am only a man. I am finite. I am frail. I am bound within created time. Time does not wait. I can still remember all of my children at the time of their birth. It is burned into my head. Man is born and man will someday die. But while we are here there is quality of life that can only be truly achieved as a gift from the LORD through prayer. American busyness has quietly and persistently overwhelmed my prayer life to the point that some days I forget to pray to my Maker and Sustainer. In fasting I’m reminded with every hunger pang, every moment of fatigue to turn to my Lord. It is good training for life yet ahead. Try it and see.
Personally this is my first lengthy fast. As mentioned before I’ve done 24 hour fasts, I’ve done 13-14 hour mountain adventures without food, but three days is like nothing I’ve done before. The benefits are there if you are physically able to do it. I am looking forward to some amazing food when this is all done in roughly 10 hours—boy am I looking forward to it! I will have to slowly introduce simple foods like chicken bone broth and diluted tart cherry juice so as not to shock my body. My senses are heightened like never before in anticipation for a wonderful end to the fast. The benefits will pay off and prepare me physically, mentally, and spiritually for not only the next Mountain, but life.