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Episode 28: Channeling Pain into Positivity: Speaking with Running Man, Charlie Engle



Charlie Engle is a writer, runner, recovering addict and speaker. He’s run across the Sahara Desert, the Amazon, and is currently embarking on his audacious pursuit to run from the lowest point on earth; the Dead Sea to the tallest; the summit of Mt. Everest! But, Charlie says his greatest challenge has been becoming sober. He has stayed clean since 1992 and has channeled his addictive nature into his passion to run and what he calls “positive, purpose-driven pursuits.” In 2016, he wrote a memoir titled, “The Running Man” to illuminate the lessons he’s learned in his struggles and his triumphs.

Our hosts, Jeff Evans and Erik Weihenmayer, had the opportunity to catch Charlie for an hour during his extremely busy schedule. Charlie was in the midst of training to head off on his latest pursuit: to run from the lowest point on earth; the Dead Sea to the tallest; the summit of Mt. Everest. Jeff and Erik wanted to hear more about not only his athletic accomplishments (too many for one podcast!) but to hear about how he got to this place of focus in his life.

He has stayed clean since 1992 and has channeled his addictive nature into his passion to run and what he calls “positive, purpose-driven pursuits.”

He discusses the mental clarity and resolve it takes to run such long distances and not avoid pain but to tap into it. He also talks about the sheer logistics and planning that go into endeavors like the ones he takes on and the folks in his life who help make it all possible – like his wife who works tirelessly on logistics behind the scenes.

To learn more and keep up to date on Charlie’s adventures by signing up for his newsletter go to his website.

Follow Charlie on Facebook: @charlieengleruns, Instagram & Twitter: @charlieengle

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Episode Transcript

Charlie Engle:

Addiction is all about hiding. It's about having no feelings, being invisible. There is no hiding in running. I feel everything all the time. I get the chance, in fact, to be fully present to feel the pain and suffering, or just the illumination of sweating and being out there. I mean, that's a gift to be able to feel those things. So, it couldn't be more the exact opposite.

Erik W:

It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means, and part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in, in the summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward, is what we call No Barriers.

Jeff:

Charlie Engle is a writer, runner, recovering addict and speaker. He's run across the Sahara Desert, the Amazon, and is currently embarking on his audacious pursuit to run from the lowest point on the earth, the Dead Sea, to the tallest, the summit of Mount Everest. But Charlie says his greatest challenge is becoming sober. He's stayed cleaned since 1992, and has channeled his addictive nature into his passion to run in what he calls positive purpose driven pursuits. In 2016, he wrote a memoir titled The Running Man to illuminate the lessons he's learned in his struggles and his triumphs. Visit charlieengle.com to learn more.

Erik W:

We'll get into this, but the No Barriers podcast is really to understand how people live this no barriers life in all shapes, and sizes, and expressions. So, you have a really fascinating story, and this no barriers life, it's not just all physical stuff, obviously, there's what we call invisible barriers. So, I think addiction and all this stuff that you struggled with and worked through are really great for our community.

Charlie Engle:

No, I appreciate that, and I mean, look, I think that the thing that you've done a brilliant job of in your life, and that I like to emulate is sharing the struggle with people, because everybody struggles, and anybody who doesn't put that out there is ... I don't know, they just want to look good or whatever, but I think we all relate to struggle way more than we relate to success, so I feel like it's part of my job to share that struggle with folks, and bring them along on that journey.

Erik W:

Cool. There's a lot of struggle in the world, and like a physical disability, you have a prosthetic leg or an arm, and blindness, I use a cane, but some of these invisible challenges in the brain are even more traumatic, even more nuanced and complex. So, you've struggled a lot with that kind of invisible stuff, and you're here on the podcast because you're doing some amazing things. You've sort of translated that addiction to something really big and purposeful. So, you're a really great representation of this no barriers life, but start us out on that journey. First of all, you got a big project coming up in 2020, tell everybody about this crazy idea.

Charlie Engle:

Yeah man, well what you just said, too, I think that we all have a combination of self-inflicted barriers, and some of the things that are just thrust upon us that we have no control over or responsibility in, but once that barrier is there then it is our responsibility to figure out what to do about it. I like to say that what happens to us is way less important than what we choose to do about it. This project you're referring, I call it 5.8, and I'm actually going to go from ... it's a metaphor that you'll get right away, I'm going to go from the lowest-

Erik W:

Hey, it's funny, because that's Jeff's height, by the way.

Charlie Engle:

There we go.

Jeff:

Wow, did you just have that in your quiver somewhere?

Erik W:

Oh yeah, I had that ready.

Jeff:

That's cute, yeah.

Charlie Engle:

I just want to know if you can dribble with your left hand, because then when we get together I'll know which way to go, and all that.

Jeff:

Well, it also, 5.8 is Erik has five hair follicles on his left, and five eight on the right.

Erik W:

Sort of like Curly from the three stooges.

Jeff:

Yeah, all right, sorry, Charlie [crosstalk 00:05:22]-

Erik W:

All right, go ahead.

Charlie Engle:

No, man, I love it. So, this project is, it goes ... It's actually on all seven continents. I'm going to go from the lowest land elevation on all seven continents to the highest elevation on each continent. The one you're referring to is actually the ultimate version of that, which will actually be the last of the seven, and that is from the Dead Sea, where I will swim out into the Dead Sea and do a free dive, to the deepest point I can reach, which might be 20 feet, but I'm going to go down there anywhere-

Erik W:

It's hard diving in that Dead Sea.

Charlie Engle:

It is. My wife says she's willing to give me lots of weights to hook onto me, and that's help me get down-

Erik W:

Yeah, there's tons of salt that keep you floating, right?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah. So, I'll come back up, hopefully, and swim back to shore, and then I'll run 2,000 miles across the Arabian Desert, and when I get to the tip of Oman I will get in a kayak and paddle 1,000 miles across the Indian Ocean, and when I reach Mumbai, India, get on a mountain bike and bike to the base camp of Everest, and from there, of course, attempt to make it to the top. That's about 4,500 miles from end to end, but I call this project 5.8 because it's actually only 5.8 vertical miles from the lowest place to the highest point on the planet.

Charlie Engle:

Every person on the planet, including you two guys and me, all live within this little tiny 5.8 mile sliver of space that covers the planet. As I like to say, we may not agree on everything, but we're all in this together whether we like it or not. The metaphor, I think, again, as we were discussing earlier is very obvious, we all go through a lifelong rollercoaster of low places and high points, and that's kind of the human condition. The point is to never give up on that, and to realize that there is another way forward always, you just got to find it.

Jeff:

So, Charlie-

Erik W:

How'd you become such a underachiever? That's what I want to know.

Charlie Engle:

Genetic.

Jeff:

So, Charlie, I know you're sober, and we want to talk about your history leading up to sobriety, but when I hear that project I can't help but think that it was somehow formulated sitting around a campfire swinging whiskey or something, but I know that's not the case because I know you're sober, so where the hell did you come up with this? I mean, I see the metaphors, and I see the connections, but this is a pretty audacious goal. So, did you come up with it, and was it over the course of one day, was you had like a dream about it, or how'd it originate?

Charlie Engle:

Man, that's a great question, nobody's ever actually asked me that, and it is a ... I know the exact moment that it happened, and interestingly it was at the moment of a really supreme failure, and that was in 2008. This idea has been floating around for that long, but in 2008 I attempted to set a new record for the fastest run across the U.S., and at that point I needed to go about 70 miles a day for 45 consecutive days, and about 20 days into that I fell apart completely. I had MRSA, a staph infection, and I had tendonitis all over my ... I was a disaster, and medically I actually had to quit. I got on a bike and actually went the rest of the way across the country, because I was meeting with a bunch of kids at special needs schools.

Charlie Engle:

It was a perspective gatherer, because I quit running and I got a chance to actually take the time to visit these kids at these schools, and it changed my whole perspective. I realized at that point that this was a low point for me, just like sobriety ... being sober is a high point, but I can tell you the low points I've had since the day I got sober don't ever compare to the low points I had as an addict, and that self-inflicted pain and suffering. So, I always keep that in mind, this stuff that I try to do now, it's all voluntary, man, I can't complain about this. But the idea came sitting there with a bunch of kids who have special needs, and they didn't choose their challenge, it was put upon them, and they were doing their best. I just said, "I wonder if anybody's ever literally gone from the lowest place to the highest point.", and like all bad ideas, that's where it was born.

Erik W:

Well yeah, most ideas like that sit in the back of your brain, and you never really express it, but you did so, I mean, how many times since you came up with the idea have you said, "Oh shit, what have I committed to?"

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, way too many. Dead Sea to Everest is the one I wanted to do, that's the one that really, really attracts me, but I had to make a decision about six months ago, because it's an expensive expedition, and I'm not a wealthy guy, and so I need sponsors and partners. Everybody loves the idea, but I wasn't getting the buy-in. So, I went back and I said, "Okay, look, I always wanted to do all seven continents, so how about I start with Africa?", and the budget's about 10% of the budget for the big one, and as a proof of concept we'll start there. Interestingly, I got 20 sponsors when I presented that project, and people have been so excited. Sometimes you have to take a step back and come up with an alternative way to get around, or under, or through the barrier.

Jeff:

Yeah, but I'm really ... I get hung up on the idea though that any potential sponsors were fearful of your failure and didn't want to be associated with the highest level of your project as opposed to you kind of cutting it in half and starting with this, and then you get a lot more buy-in. What do you attribute that to, and the hold out from people going to the big one down to a more modest version?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, Jeff, it's a great question, and I mean, I will admit some serious frustration, because I would get such incredible enthusiasm, but when it came to writing that really big check nobody wanted to be first, and again, maybe ... I don't know, some of it is the fact that I'm not a ... I'm a good athlete, but I'm more average than I am amazing athlete, and I think I have an extra dose of determination that probably comes from the addict part of my personality. I'm really not ... I tell people all the time, you don't have to ... when you get sober you don't have to ditch your addict, you have to find a way to channel that power into something good.

Charlie Engle:

I mean, I don't want to be too presumptuous here, but you guys have both accomplished a lot, and while you may not be addicts in the truest sense, there has to be some obsession ... I've watched you, Erik, especially, and all the things you've done, there's got to be some obsession to keep going after that time and time again, and I don't think that successful people can be successful without a certain dose of that obsession. Somehow I just couldn't get sponsors bought in, and now-

Erik W:

I think people are afraid of audacious things, you know?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah.

Erik W:

They're afraid of that. But my friend, Chris Morris, he always says, you got to sort of play this mental gymnastics game where you have to believe so hard that you're going to stand on top that that carries you through all those challenges. So, good for you, man, making it happen. You leave on Monday, that is so cool. So, you're making it real.

Charlie Engle:

Well, and I so appreciate you saying that. I gave a talk recently that basically the theme was comfort is overrated, and I don't understand this pursuit of comfort. I don't know anyone, at least not in my world, that's ever gained anything, any knowledge, any lessons from the easy things in their life, but the thing is it's just ... I think people are risk averse to such a degree, but I don't even know if it's risk averse, Erik, I think it's laziness to a lot of degree.

Charlie Engle:

I'll tell you one other thing that I like to say, misery really does love company, and there's the weirdest thing, not everyone wants you to succeed. I'm not talking about necessarily the haters, but I'll do it in sobriety terms. When I got sober I had people come to me, some of my closest friends come to me, and they're like, "Hey, man, you don't have a problem, you just need to slow down some. You need to just do this or that.", and it was because they were terrified of me getting sober, because guess what, they were going to have to take a look at their own lives, and what they were doing with it, and what they were accomplishing, and-

Erik W:

It puts a mirror on yourself, that's a hard look sometimes, huh?

Charlie Engle:

It is, for sure.

Erik W:

Now, you talked earlier about this idea, because I find this super fascinating, and I want to understand addiction a little bit better, because my brother Mark, he was a alcoholic, and he said when he started drinking it made him the coolest guy in the room. He was shy, he sort of felt ordinary, maybe a little alienated, and drinking just made him the studliest, coolest, most handsome guy in the world. So, how do you think that addiction started in your life?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, man, it's a good question. I mean, I think genetics, first of all. I am a fourth generation addict, and alcoholic, and I think that it's pretty hard to get away from genetics, but then of course, environment plays a role. Look, I had an 18 year old mother when I was born, and it was the '60s, and she was in theater, and I was kind of surrounded by alcohol and drugs. I mean, my mom, she passed a couple years ago, and she knows this so it's not like I'm saying something bad about her, but I would say I was lovingly neglected.

Charlie Engle:

So, I was left to my own devices a lot, and about nine or 10 years old I started wandering through the parties and just finishing a half a beer here and there, and I liked that sort of warm fuzzy feeling that I got from it. I think I was lonely, and I found some connection in that, and then I went the other way, Erik. I mean, in high school I was the overachiever, student body president, and captain of the sports team, and made good grades, and did all that, and trying to get my father's attention, which that's a whole nother subject, but that didn't really get me anywhere.

Charlie Engle:

I went to college, and I got there and I thought I was going to be special, all this amazing resume I had, and I got to Carolina and there were 4,000 other freshmen that had the exact same resume I had. It took me about a week to figure out that while I wasn't exceptional at any of those things, I was an exceptional drinker, and that actually became my thing. I hung on for a couple years we basketball, and did some cool stuff, but the '80s were also the cocaine decade, and I really started diving into that lifestyle. It took me about 12 years to get out of it from the time I was 17 to the time I was 29 it was an everyday occurrence.

Jeff:

You were pretty high functioning, right? It sounds like even though you were balancing your addiction and really not afraid to dive in really deep you still were hard charged, and you were entrepreneurial, you were holding down pretty high level jobs. Do you feel like because you were successful it sort of gave you the fuel to keep going, and not pushing away your addiction, substance abuse?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, totally. I mean, look, my goal was to ... My belief was that boss won't fire the top salesman, and that turned out not to be true, by the way, but I was a top Toyota salesman in the country for a couple of years. I sold five or 600 cars a year in Monterey, California, and my belief was that if I could balance my addictive behavior, and I was a pain in the ass on this side with high achieving on the other side, then I could get away with it, and nobody was going to question it. But I went through this long series of ... I had to move basically once every couple of years, because I would just screw it up and finally be shown the door, and I needed to go somewhere and start over again, and I would do it all again.

Charlie Engle:

I tried everything to quit, man. Drink on weekends, don't drink liquor, don't do this, don't do that, and somebody finally said to me like, "You do understand that normal people don't have to control their drinking?" They just actually ... I'm married to somebody who she'll leave half a glass of wine at dinner, and I still look at her like she's an alien. I'm like, I'm 27 years sober and I still look at her like, "How can you possible leave alcohol on the table? I just don't understand."

Jeff:

But why, because you're ashamed that she didn't finish it, or because you're being tempted?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, no, no, not at all. I'm being funny, I'm giving her a hard time. My temptation is I feed that animal with running, and biking, and climbing, and I do a lot of sobriety meetings still to this day. I stay very connected to the recovery community, and I think that's what it's about. You guys, I know, say the same thing, community is so important.

Charlie Engle:

I'm a strong individual, or at least I think I am, but the places I am the strongest are the communities that I belong to, and in particular the running community and the sober community, and those people support me, and I'm not afraid to go out and say, "I had a terrible run today.", or, "The thought of drinking occurred to me today." I'll say that in a meeting, and you say it out loud so that somebody can come to you and say, "Hey dude, I understand how you're feeling, and you don't have to do that.", and that's all I need to hear.

Erik W:

That's such a perfect, simple message. These two communities, that probably some of them intersect, but you consciously chose to be a part of those communities, and those lift you up, right, they support you?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, people say all the time, "Oh, I quit drinking by myself. I did it cold turkey on my own." It's a weird badge of honor, because I don't struggle today to not drink, I struggle today to not be an asshole. If I'm left to my own devices, if I don't have an outlet for those crazy feelings that bubble up inside me, and if I don't have a place to put that, or somebody to talk to that I trust, and sometimes that somebody is the whole community, I'll put it out to anybody on social media and say, "You know what? This has been a rough day. Here's why it's been a rough day. Here's what I've done about it."

Charlie Engle:

Interestingly, those are the messages that I get the most response to. If I say, "Man, I had the best, kick ass 20 mile run today, and I just got this deal with a sponsor, and all that.", I'll get very polite congratulations, and people are happy for me, but the response will be three times as much if I say, "It's a struggle today." I love the old saying that we're only as sick as our secrets, and most of the time if you share that stuff that's really going on you'll find a lot more people relate to that part of your life than to the good things.

Erik W:

Struggle unites us, huh?

Jeff:

Well, vulnerability, right-

Erik W:

Yeah.

Jeff:

... the ability to be vulnerable, and I think Erik and I have been very intimately involved with the veteran space when we started the No Barriers Warriors program a number of years ago. So, obviously, what comes hand in hand with a lot of the veterans that we work with is substance abuse, and resolving addiction issues. We obviously, just like you, think that the outdoors is the perfect theater to be able to allow people to grow from that.

Jeff:

I feel like your vulnerability, and you showing your side, and asking for help, even this far into your sobriety, that just shows what kind of character you have, and I feel like our demographic, the population that we work with would really benefit from hearing even more about that. The willingness to expose your scars, and admit the fact that from the Buddhist perspective that life is suffering, and that when we honor that and we show that, that it allows for growth, and that connection for community. Like you just said, you feel it, you see it, right? Do you have anything else to add to any of that?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, I mean, you said it so well right there. I've got a lot of friends, of course, in the service community, military community, and I used to Adventure Race with a lot of those guys, and I would make a joke that I've got two Navy SEALs and an Army Ranger on my team, and if they didn't have me they would all just drive themselves into the ground, because there's a lot of pride, and there's guilt associated with showing any weakness whatsoever. So, it's really ingrained, and it's hard to get away from that.

Charlie Engle:

So, I'd be the guy on the Adventure Race team going, "Hey, somebody carry my pack please, because I'm having a hard time." What you find is, in any community, if you will raise your hand and say, "Hey, I could use some help here for a minute.", or for longer than that, it goes a long way, and we all know the statistics of these guys and girls coming back from service and how many lives are lost to suicide, and to addiction, and it's inexcusable that somehow there's not a better system in place to get help for these folks. Look though, to be fair, it's not a secret anymore, man, you can't get out of the service and not know that there is help available. You've got to be willing to open yourself up and say, "I'm hurting, or I'm struggling right now."

Erik W:

How did you work through your addiction? I mean, I've heard you talk about the fact that you quit like hundreds of times, you're an expert at that, how did you ... I guess I was going to say conquer it, but you don't really conquer it I imagine, just you learn to, as you said, work through it, and move past it.

Charlie Engle:

You conquer it on a daily basis. Look man, I don't want to be presumptuous, you and I have never really talked about how you lost your sight and so forth, but the fact of the matter is any challenge like that if you think about this like, "Oh my God, this is for the rest of my life?", that is so overwhelming, and it truly is that idea of focusing on the moment that you're in, and the day that you're living, and trying not to project that further in the future.

Charlie Engle:

When I finally stopped, it was a couple months after my first son was born, and to be honest, I thought he was going to save me. I had tried everything to quit, nothing had stuck, and I just thought his mere presence on the planet was going to make me stop drinking and using, because surely I could stay sober for him. A couple months later, there I am sitting on the ground outside a dumpy motel in Wichita, Kansas watching the police search my car, and it's got bullet holes in it from somebody trying to shoot me, and the cop finds a crack pipe under the seat, and instead of thinking, "Oh my God, I'm in serious trouble.", all I could think is, "So that's where that was."

Jeff:

Wow.

Charlie Engle:

It's just that crazy sick thinking, and I realized in that moment after being awake for six days, and all the ... just crap I'd been through, it was like the clearest thought ever, it's like, nobody's coming to save you. Your son can't save you, if you're not willing to save yourself and to take the steps that you know how to take, then maybe you're not worth saving.

Charlie Engle:

I went to meeting that night, and I'd been to meetings before, but that was the first one I ever really went to with a curious mind, and an open heart, and I got up the next morning and put on my running shoes, and I did those two things every single day for the next three years without missing a day. I ran and I went to a meeting, and I just focused on the day I was in, and I came to a place where I realized, "Okay, I can do this.", but it just had to be that one day at a time. It's cliché, but clichés are there for a reason, man, they work.

Erik W:

Wow.

Jeff:

Were you aware of the chemical component of the addiction while you were addicted, and then by being aware of the serotonin receptors being full with cocaine that you were going to have to replace those receptors with something else in that laser focus that you've now committed to? Even that day you went to the A.A. meeting and you said, "I'm going to put my running shoes on, because I have to fill that void.", were you aware of that then, or was it just sort of an auspicious thing?

Charlie Engle:

Man, you just took me back to ... You're a Tar Heel, so I just found myself on Franklin Street at a bar that used to be called Purdy's that probably was gone by the time you were there, but it became Player's, up above the Rathskeller on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, and I remember like it happened 10 minutes ago being in a back office in that bar and snorting two lines of coke, and they hit my brain like a klieg light, like a hammer, and it just changed everything.

Charlie Engle:

I spent the next 11 years of my life chasing that first high, because it never felt like that again in that moment, and it just ... that's the crazy part about addiction. I mean, I say, too, I don't care, climbing, running a marathon, falling in love, having a job, first experiences are super powerful chemically, and we want to experience those over and over, I think, and it's very difficult to do something ... we clearly can't do it for the first time again, but I did know that I needed to replace it.

Charlie Engle:

I watched people in sobriety go to A.A. meetings and that's all they did, and I knew that that wasn't enough for me. I needed a physical outlet. Look, I freely admit, too, I ran in those early years to punish myself. I ran every single time I ran I pretty much ran til I was going to throw up, until I couldn't go another step. I was doing a combination of self-flagellation, and sure, I got the side benefit if actually being in really good shape, but I wanted to be so exhausted when my head hit the pillow at night that the thought of a beer or anything else just wasn't even ... I was too tired to go to the refrigerator.

Erik W:

Over time though, running becomes more positive, because I think that's so fascinating that you talk about this idea that you can't maybe kill addiction, you have to translate it into that energy into, like Jeff you were talking about, into something bigger, something that gives you more purpose and meaning, and that's a wild process, it's artful.

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, well you have to channel it. You have to channel the ... I think the frustration, the ... Look, I admit, there's ego mixed into it, too-

Erik W:

Sure.

Charlie Engle:

... but the one thing I never wanted to be was normal. I knew that way early on. I didn't feel normal, and people who wanted a normal life, I just didn't even get it. So, the moment marathon running became super mainstream, like I tell somebody I'm running the Boston Marathon five years ago, and they're like yeah, "My grandmother just did her 14th in a row." Total kudos to that, I love the running boom in this country, and I love the people that do it, but I knew for me I wanted to find something that was maybe a little more off the grid.

Charlie Engle:

So, it drove me to more extreme things, and I freely admit I liked early on that feeling of telling somebody I was going to run 100 miles, or I mean, Erik, I don't know, I would guess that there was some satisfaction when you told somebody, "Hey, I'm getting ready to go climb Everest.", there's purpose and all of that, but there's also some like, "Yeah, I'm getting ready to do something that most people can't do."

Erik W:

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I used to kind of avoid that, and now I'm getting older and I totally accept the fact that there's ego in that decision, of course, which is a good thing to channel that ego into something big and cool.

Jeff:

Because ego exists, we can't hide it, it has to, and we have to embrace it and allow it to be a positive fuel, which is, I think, what you continue to do all these decades through sobriety.

Charlie Engle:

Well, you can't possibly hope to help other people if you're not helping yourself. I think too often we deflect, and we almost embarrassingly say that we're going to go run a marathon for this cause, or we're going to go this thing for this cause. Look, I do the same thing. I'm lucky enough to be the co-founder of H2O Africa, which today is Water.org, it's the world's biggest clean water non-profit, and I take great pride in that, but I'm no philanthropist.

Charlie Engle:

I just ran across the Sahara Desert years ago, and I got lucky to have Matt Damon as a partner, and thanks to that we were able to build it into something, but people always ask me, "So, you ran across the desert to bring attention to clean water." I'm like, "No, I ran across the desert, because I wanted to see if I was capable of doing it, and then I got the side benefit of doing what I'm passionate about, and attach something selfless to it, and accomplish two goals by doing the same thing."

Erik W:

It's like the ability to run across the Sahara, and have that personal summit somehow connects you and enables you in a way to move beyond that and now think a little more expansively?

Charlie Engle:

Yeah, and you mentioned being older a minute ago, I'll be 57 during this Africa expedition, I'll be on Kilimanjaro actually I'll turn 57, and I have definitely mellowed in the sense that I even call myself a cultural explorer these days, I don't ... My purpose in life is to experience as many cultures, as many places as I possibly can. I am a big believer in the need for environmental policy changes out there, and I think we're heading in the wrong direction, but I'm not ... probably the best lesson I learned in sobriety is an old adage about attraction rather than promotion.

Charlie Engle:

What that means is just simply if you're living your life in a certain way rather than just talking about it all the time, people will emulate you, or if they're interested they will follow your lead. You don't have to talk about it, but you do have to go out there and do it. So, I'm more interested in just going out there and doing things, and you know what, the right people will be attracted to it, and hopefully will join me in trying to make some changes out there.

Erik W:

And that's how an influencer like Matt Damon says, "Okay, that's cool. What this guy's doing's cool, I want to be connected with that."

Charlie Engle:

Somebody asked me the other day, I went to this function, and I got a question from the audience. I was talking about running 2,000 miles across Africa coming up, and the guy said, "How can you physically do that? How is that even physically possible?", and I actually said, "It's not physically possible, it's only mentally possible.", and I think that that's the thing.

Erik W:

Because there's going to be some pain.

Charlie Engle:

Totally. I want there to be. Why would I be interested in doing it if there wasn't going to be?

Jeff:

Well, I've got to ask you this question, you talked about the self-flagellation back in the day, and do you feel like this is kind of the ultimate test with that, just to see what you and your body and your mind can do, and that you're perhaps in a way still maybe ... you feel like you're paying penance for those early years? Those lost years?

Charlie Engle:

Dude, that absolutely still lives inside me. That insecurity and that feeling of not being good enough. I mean, look, I'm well connected in the recovery community, I have great friends that if I have some depressing feelings, or whatever, I talk to them about it, because I know that's the best thing to do, but I don't expect to wake up one day and magically that part of me is going to be gone. But I would even answer it this way, early on in my sobriety during those years when I was running every day so hard, somebody said, "You just switched addictions.", and they said it as an insult, like they were actually pointing out a flaw in me.

Charlie Engle:

As an addict and a sensitive person, I of course told them to F off, but here's the thing, it took me a while to understand addiction ... if you know any ... and you both know plenty about addiction, whether you are an addict, you have a family member who's an addict, you've got family members, friends, people ... you can't escape it in this day and age. You know somebody, or you are somebody. Addiction is all about hiding, it's about having no feelings, being invisible, and if you have a feeling, if I had a feeling, I drank it away or drugged it away, and I don't know why, I just did. I was afraid of the feelings and where they would take me, and that I wasn't worthy.

Charlie Engle:

Running, sure, I may run addictively in a way, but there is no hiding in running. I feel everything all the time. I get the chance, in fact, to be fully present, to feel the pain and suffering, or whatever might be going on, or just the illumination of sweating and being out there. I mean, that's a gift to be able to feel those things. So, it couldn't be more the exact opposite of what drug addiction is. I can always find my car at the end of a long run, and that was not the truth after a binge.

Erik W:

That is so fascinating, that's like the opposite as you're saying, that's like living fully, feeling everything, taking it all in.

Charlie Engle:

Erik, when you're on mountains, is there ever a time where you're more focused or more present than when you're on the edge of a mountain and you know you're in that space, that special space? I mean, there's nothing better.

Erik W:

Yeah. No, I mean, I admit fully that my biggest fear when I was a kid was being boxed in by people, by myself, my own thoughts and just living inside this box, this prison, breaking out and living in the mountains. That's definitely a part of that living experience for me, so the way you described it there sort of empathizing in a deep way with that.

Charlie Engle:

Well look, there's another thing too that I think, Jeff to your question, I just thought as I was writing about this the other day, this is ... I'm over sharing, but I'm afraid sometimes that I'm addicted still to ... That scary feeling I used to get when I would drive to the worst neighborhood in town to buy drugs, there was something incredible edgy and powerful, and the driving through, and the danger. I thought when I got sober I just assumed my life was going to be boring after that, like that's it, I'm not really going to have that feeling anymore, and I do still crave it. I like the feeling of knowing I'm going to go take a calculated risk and do something. That excites me, and I'm not ashamed of that. I don't think there's a ... We don't get a second chance at this, and I want to go after doing exciting, interesting things, and experience all I can.

Erik W:

I love that.

Jeff:

Since most people are probably pretty fascinated with how you're going to approach this project, it just seems ... just the logistics seem overwhelming. Can you just give us a 30,000 foot view of how you're going to pull off the continents, what maybe the time window is for you, and what you expect it to take for each of the continents?

Charlie Engle:

The way it's going to look is this Africa one is going to take me a month to go lowest to highest. South America will be in January. Australia will be in March. Europe and Elbrus will be in April. Then come the truly daunting ones, North America of course is Badwater in Death Valley all the way up to Alaska and Denali-

Jeff:

Hot dog, man.

Charlie Engle:

... and that one's over 4,000 miles, so it's a long way to go to get there. Denali's the only truly big mountain I've ever climbed before. I've done some volcanoes in Ecuador, and some other things, but I freely admit this will be a bit of a learning experience along the way. But then comes Antarctica, which again, I freely admit the lowest place in Antarctica is over 2,000 miles away from the highest, and no one in history has ever gone that far in Antarctica, and it's certainly unlikely that I'm magically going to become the greatest polar explorer of all time. So, I'm working on a work around with that one that's actually going to involve trying to do a free dive of at least 50 meters, because 50 meters below sea level is the lowest land elevation in Antarctica and it's 2,000 miles away, but if I just go to the coast, if I could do a free dive of 50 meters, which is way beyond my skill level right now, especially in that water-

Jeff:

What the hell?

Charlie Engle:

... then I would at least then claim with the caveat I didn't start on the lowest land elevation, but I would at least say that I gave it my best shot. And then, of course, Dead Sea to Everest will be 2021. So, I'll literally start January the first at the Dead Sea, and as we all know there's a summit window on Everest, and my goal would be to get there in time, and not ... Let me tell you this, if I had had to climb Everest at the end of running across the Sahara Desert I would be very frozen on that mountain right now, because my body was a disaster. So, the other thing I have to figure out is how to show up at these mountains at the end of these expeditions not totally trashed.

Jeff:

Yep, okay, so yeah, how you going to do that? What's the-

Charlie Engle:

Well-

Jeff:

... I mean, I just got five blisters on my feet just popped up listening to that. I mean, good God, man.

Charlie Engle:

... But I think that it is about my age does actually help me be less ego driven, and therefore I'm not afraid to stop and fix those blisters, or slow it down. I've been plant based for a lot of years as an eater nutritionally. I do take really good care of myself. In the last, I'd say, 10 years of my life, I've really, really prioritized sleep and hydration. I give those two things equal billing at the very top of my list, and for many, many years before that physical exertion was dominant, and I don't care if I had two hours of sleep, if I had planned to run 20 miles that day, I was going to go run and just pound myself into the ground, and I know now how counterproductive that is to actually being successful. The hardest thing to do, and again, I'm sure, Erik, you can relate to this, the hardest thing to do is to show up at the beginning of an expedition healthy.

Erik W:

Yep, yeah.

Charlie Engle:

Because of stress, and just you're tired, and you're just worn out from planning, and [crosstalk 00:46:26]-

Erik W:

Yeah, don't start injured or sick.

Charlie Engle:

Exactly.

Erik W:

I've learned that lesson.

Charlie Engle:

Yep.

Erik W:

Well, best of luck to you, I mean, that's exciting, and sounds like you're really prepared. You got a plan, it's exciting, and you're definitely going to be a No Barriers pioneer. You already have been a pioneer with all the amazing stuff you've done, running across the Amazon and the Sahara, really cool. So, we're honored to have you on the podcast.

Charlie Engle:

Well, truly honored to be here, and you guys are rockstars, and it's a wonderful thing you're doing because people just need to understand that it's not ... this stuff isn't that hard, you just got to get started. I tell people all the time, they're like, "How do you plan this?" I'm like, "The first thing you do is you go to your county library and get a map, one of those things made out of paper, not on your phone, and get a map of your county." I'm like, "Figure out how you're going to go 50 miles across your county on foot, or on a bike, and don't always just show up to something that has been planned for you. Actually go through the steps of planning something for yourself and go out there and make it happen." You guys are doing the same thing, and I think that if there's enough of our voices out there to encourage folks to never stop exploring then the world will be better for it.

Erik W:

For sure.

Jeff:

Well, Charlie, I applaud your ability to have a big goal, and a big dream, and then honestly, because Erik and I have spent a lot of time in the Himalayas suffering on mountains, I applaud your ability to be willing to suffer, because you know it's coming, and you know what you're setting yourself up for, and you're still going it sounds like with a ear to ear grin just waiting to take it on, and see what it ... because there's that hold metaphor that the skilled sailor has to have the tumultuous seas and the big storms to be able to get strong, so you surely are an illustration of that. So, we're honored to have you. Where can people find out and follow you as you go on this journey? Do you have a dedicated website, or what's that like?

Charlie Engle:

I do, you know what, I made some decisions this time to keep it on my own website, so it's as simple as it can be. It's just charlieengle.com, and all the links to social media are there, so if somebody likes one platform over another they'll find the link there, and I'll be sending out blogs and blasts to people, so you can sign up on the website to actually follow along. Yeah, I mean, I hope that we can get out a lot of information. T-Mobile is one of my sponsors, and I'm going there fully armed with being able to get out some information.

Jeff:

Well, that's going to be fun to watch.

Charlie Engle:

Yeah.

Erik W:

Thanks, Charlie. So, Jeff, that was ... I mean, there's a lot to process, to be honest with you.

Jeff:

I could've talked to Charlie for days, and I hope that I can some time. I mean, that guy sort of embraces everything that I love about a character in life. I love how he went to these dark canyons and knew he was there, and he was savvy enough to understand where he was, and be just sort of ... felt like he could dig out of it at any moment when in fact he probably couldn't. And then hearing the story about him finding clarity through a few fortuitous, or I guess, ugly events, but that showed him that what he was going to be required to recalibrate how he got off, basically, how he got high.

Jeff:

When I think about the demographic that you and I have worked with, with our Warriors program, we've had so many first person encounters with really remarkable men and women that were, I guess, afraid to be vulnerable, and then when I saw some of them become vulnerable that's when the real transformation happened, and I think Charlie really embodies that, and I just ... I hope that this particular podcast can get out to as much of our community as possible. It's one of the best one's we've had. Charlie is just a wonderful representation of channeling, right-

Erik W:

Yeah.

Jeff:

... and of finding purpose, and allowing that fire and soul within you to be repurposed into something that's positive. So, I'm really grateful for him, and I am stoked to watch that man suffer. Man, because he is going for it, man. I mean, that is ... Just listening to him recount what he's going to go do is just a mind bender.

Erik W:

You're going to get blisters just watching him, as you said.

Jeff:

Oh my gosh, yeah.

Erik W:

Well, I think it's cool. He's really insightful, and I loved the honesty. To me, the honesty is so cool, way beyond just any kind of cliché or anything, such tremendous honesty, and I liked what he said about his kid wasn't going to save him, he had to save himself, and that changed two things, he went into the A.A. meetings and he started running. We talk about transformation all the time, and what does that mean? It's like one of these lofty words, but it really just ... I'm sure he changed more than that, but he changed two things, and he went in with an open heart, and vulnerable, as you mentioned, and that led to these purposeful things, and that's the transformation. He didn't kill the addiction, he channeled that energy into something else.

Erik W:

Now, I'm not ... We need to make sure we tell our community, you don't have to go out and run from the Dead Sea to the top of Everest, but you do have to channel that addiction, that trauma, into something positive. Maybe it's going to church, or playing gin rummy, you know what I mean, online. I don't know, something more positive that's more fulfilling, that's more sustainable, because maybe you don't kill that energy, but you translate it into something bigger, hopefully something with more purpose. Maybe it doesn't even have to be physical, maybe it's just joining and volunteering in some capacity where you really feel fulfilled in that way, that fills your soul with something better and healthier. I find that super great.

Jeff:

Right, so how often do you and I see it within the community where people are sort of lost with their purpose? I'm talking not just the Warriors community, but the No Barriers community in general, lost with ... have no dharma, have no focus on purpose, and then they come to a Summit, or they do a What's Your Everest, or they find that there is a venue outdoors, and there is a community and all of the sudden that purpose gets defined. It may have been sort of angled in the wrong direction for a while, and then it just needs to be recalibrated. Take that purpose in a positive way. Charlie's a, God, what a poster child for purpose that guy is, man. It's amazing.

Erik W:

All right, well with that, thanks everyone, thanks for joining the podcast No Barriers.

Jeff:

See you later.

Speaker 4:

: Thanks to all of you for listening to our podcast. We know that you have a lot of choices about how you can spend your time, and so we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, which is called Guidance. The production team behind this podcast include producers Didrik Johnck and Pauline Schaffer, sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman, graphics by Sam Davis, and marketing support by Laura Baldwin and Jamie Donnelly. Thanks to all you amazing people for the great work you do.

Speaker 4:

: (singing)



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