Name: Karen Klein (1969-Present)
Place: Grand Canyon, AZ
Feat: Walked 30 hours straight for 26 miles through a blizzard
On Christmas Eve, most families are safe at home relaxing with friends and family. The Klein family is not. Far from it. They are stranded in a blizzard with no one around for dozens of miles.
On December 24th, the Klein family - Karen, Eric, and their son Isaac - are en route to the Northern Rim of Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Arizona no doubt brings to mind images of the barren desert and scorching sun. It probably doesn’t bring to mind images of snow. But on this night there was a lot of it — about three feet and falling fast.
After multiple hours of driving though the snowstorm on deserted roads, the Klein’s car gets stuck. It’s Christmas Eve and they are in a blizzard dozens of miles from human contact with no cell reception. What do you do in a situation like this? You take action.
Because Eric recently had back surgery and Karen is a triathlete, the family decides that Karen should go for help. So equipped with a small box of Cheerios, a bottle of water, and her dying cellphone, she sets out into the storm.
Thankfully, Karen has taken some wilderness survival courses so she's not completely out of her element. But these classes likely did not prepare her for continuous hours of marching in a blizzard, severely under equipped. Karen follows the road, trying to make her way to the nearest highway, not realizing that it’s closed for the winter. When she discovers this, she decides to press on to a ranger station near the park entrance.
By now, Karen has been hiking for hours through this blizzard. Snow is falling so fast that she has to use her phone’s flashlight to see where she’s going. The phone quickly dies. Desperate for energy and warmth, she starts to eat twigs and drink her own urine. From her wilderness classes, she knows which twigs are edible and to not eat snow because it will accelerate her heat loss. At one point she rests under a tree, but doesn't stay long because she’s afraid that she might fall asleep and not wake up.
After 20 hours of trudging through the blizzard, Karen takes off a shoe to remove the ice inside. Fortunately, she gets the ice out. Unfortunately, she can't get the shoe back on. She leaves the shoe because who needs it when you’re walking through three feet of snow. Without the shoe, her leg begins to cramp and she has to physically lift her leg for each step. Every 10 feet, she collapses. Then she gets up, walks 10 more feet, and collapses again. She does this for 9 hours straight, until she covers the last 4 miles to the ranger station.
Finding the station deserted, she breaks in and is found a few hours later. Her husband and son are extracted on snowmobiles and she’s transported to a nearby hospital. Despite severe dehydration, exposure, hypothermia, cramping, and losing a shoe, she had trudged 26 miles over 30 continuous hours through a blizzard.
Unlike many individuals that we’ve featured, Karen Klein is not world famous. She is not a legendary explorer, a celebrated Olympian, or a Guinness record holder. She’s a normal person. Yet this normal person was able to do something very abnormal — hike through a blizzard for 30 hours straight on a few Cheerios, twigs, and her own urine. How? She had no other option.
Upon the eve of battle, a Roman commander famously burned the boats that he and his army had arrived on so that they would have no option to retreat. They had to win or die. Karen had a similar situation — make it to the ranger station or die.
Karen’s absence of choice is key to understanding how she was able to do what she did. When you eliminating the option of retreat, you are able to push further than you would otherwise be able to. Take the example of two people — Jon and Dany. Jon climbs on the gym’s StairMaster for an hour and steps off when he gets tired. Dany hikes a mountain and also gets tired after an hour. She’s just as tired as Jon, but there’s no stepping off for her, no safety-net. She has no choice but to hike another hour back down. When you eliminate the safety-net, you eliminate the temptation to quit. When you eliminate the temptation to quit, you don’t quit. When you don’t quit, you conquer.
If you know a person or group who you think embodies grit and perseverance, send your suggestion to email@example.com ― if we write on it, we'll toss you a shout out and send you a free box of bars.