Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to summit Mt. Everest was credited as giving the famed reason “because it’s there,” when asked why he would attempt such a feat that had never been done before. And with that, sane people everywhere cringed as adventurers simultaneously nodded with approval and understanding.
If you want to get away from the facade and the fake, to get a little closer to knowing the real you that’s been buried beneath the weight of the world and the social pressure of your environment, look no further than the wild that is butted up against our cities. It doesn’t take some vast undertaking to begin rediscovering yourself or even to begin discovering yourself for the first time. Simply park your car at the edge of the woodline and begin to make your way into the unknown while traveling on foot.
In my observation, the human animal has always functioned at its peak when it returns to its more primitive inhabitants. Amidst the mountains and the jungles, the mind has room to roam just as the body does. The detox from our synthetic lives provides clarity to think and establish order where chaos has a habit of building during our commuting and our bill paying and our TPS reports.
As we grapple with our own nature, humans find that they have to exist in an unsettling paradox. On one hand, our very being was forged in the animal kingdom. Before the formation of the frontal lobe and the eventual industrialization of our playground, we prevailed in the ultimate game of savagery; survival of the fittest. Long before Under Armor or Nike, it was our bare feet that endured the abuse of the primitive ground. Looking at the mountains now, they serve as a fossilized backbone of a prehistoric time. A time that saw humans proving their worth with their legs and their lungs.
Now we have a mind that’s capable of looking at and assessing itself and we’ve been faced with the knowledge of the limitations of our own existence. We are developed enough to look at our own nature and try to curb it to appease the masses but we are very much still dealing with biological baggage that developed during our earlier fight for survival.
The world which developed us consisted of a landscape where all we needed to survive was a limbic system that consisted of only a few settings. Stay and fight in the presence of danger or don’t. Afterall, our sympathetic nervous system was not developed so that we could fight our bosses or flee the office. That just happens to be all that we use it for now.
Much of our problems arise from the fact that our brain evolved to survive a much simpler world and so now the intellectual complexities of our current one tend to overwhelm us at every corner. Sometimes a walk back into our earlier environment satiates the soul before we can articulate why. We must never underestimate the recognition of home and the power that it has to quell our troubles.
All of the introspective analyzing and assimilating has left us much more civilized. Or at least that is what we tell ourselves. With our newfound ability to comprehend the ramifications of our actions we’ve developed coping mechanisms that see our nature for its primal actuality and constantly attempt to shove it deep down, hoping no one will ever know us for who we truly are.
Our surroundings no longer require the savagery that they once did and so we are left to explain away and subdue the sides of us that are more beast than human. The sides of us that feel content running through the mud, swimming across oceans or gritting it out in the elements, far from safety nets or back up plans.
In the way life always seems to balance itself out however, what goes up always comes down and what we burry will eventually resurface. Just like a seed can resurface as a great oak tree, so to do our repressed feelings, resurface as something bigger, something greater in the worst sense of the word. Our attempts to muddle and suppress what we really want and who we really are can manifest down the road as much of what ails the human condition; physical illness, character traits that we can’t understand ourselves, depression and at times dependence or abuse. By never getting to know the wild side of ourselves, we end up acting like and eventually becoming someone that we don’t know at all.
Like many others however, I have resolved to never subjugate that side of myself. From the first time I ran into the mountains around age 18, I knew it was a side of myself that would need much more exploring. Every earned bead of sweat that fell onto the dirt below my sneakers seemed to act as a relief valve, purging what exists deep within me.
Time spent commuting is now offset with jaunts deep into the trails. Climbing corporate ladders is paired with climbing peaks with real consequences and time spent in board meetings is minuscule in comparison to the time I spend meeting life on it’s own terms. I have to be true to the fact that although none of us ever get out of this world alive, if we structure it correctly and there is enough balance between the fabricated and the raw, we can at least spend the time we do have, actually alive.
The hallucinations and the misfortunes that I have experienced on the trails while adventuring often provide a life changing shift in perspective. And still, at other times they are nothing more than unfiltered entertainment. In a lot of ways, I seek to understand the nature that I feel so comfortable in and perhaps through my self realizations and abolishment of chains, you will see the part of yourself that you have also buried.
To put something as vast as the human experience into words is no easy undertaking. From time to time it will be eloquent and descriptive and from time to time, it will be brutish and encumbered. Fitting, as this is exactly the way that life works out for so many of us as we try to navigate between the chaos and structure of our lives.
I have ran thousands of miles through the mountains and those miles have made me well aware of what it’s like when your mind has a prolonged period of time to wander around in your head, making things up and forcing you to question reality. Sometimes you learn to ignore fleeting thoughts as they pass through your consciousness and other times you find the thoughts that are worth exploring. The metronome of your feet below you, steadily moving you across the earth can be enough to lull you into a meditative state. You reframe concepts and ideas and you participate in mini thought experiments as you move forward. Always covering ground and reflecting on your progress. Or lack thereof, when things go wrong.
If you stay out there in the wild for long enough you’ll outlast the meditation and it won’t be long before your mind will begin to test you. It will put things in your way that aren’t there and it will paint characters in front of you that don’t exist. Typically, you’ll reserve enough sane thought to know the difference between reality and the fiction that your mind seems drawn too. But as you’ll see, that’s just not always the case. Sometimes you descend deep into fiction. Not returning to reality until you finally give your body the rest that it’s begging for.
I live for those adventures that skirt the fine line between reality and fiction. From time to time those adventures go too far as my ambitions outpace my capabilities. Time spent in the wild, the original proving grounds, is the best medium I’ve found for testing the outer limits of those capabilities in the most simplistic terms possible. It’s you vs the earth below you in a knock down drag out battle of who relents first. And the ground has a solid reputation for being stubborn.
Anyone who has engaged in that battle long enough learns quickly that endurance events such as long distance running, hiking, climbing, swimming or biking transcends the physical world that we can see and touch. The human spirit has things buried deep within it that are capable of overcoming staggering odds. It’s an energy that once tapped into, will not be denied. It’s flow state, it’s potential, it’s an indomitable will and it’s an unconquerable soul. And you have it innate within you just as much as the next guy. If only you will put yourself in a situation that demands its presence.
In black and white terms, it is appealing due to the fact that it gives you a single purpose and goal with which to focus all of your physical and mental efforts. There is really only one objective; keep moving forward. No bills, no late payments, no boss, no 401k, no traffic. Just one thought, keep. Moving. Forward.
The possibility of something learned, about yourself when your back is against the wall and about your surroundings when you are tuned in, can be intoxicating in the right environment. Once a person tunes into the adventurous side of themselves, the everyday life that attempts to exist in between outings can begin to feel like it is nothing more than a waiting game. It will be the mountains that teach you that your personal problems are insignificant in size compared to the world that you live in. It will be the night sky painted with stars that teaches you how to navigate, regardless of the darkness that surrounds you.
It’s easy to believe that the age of exploration is over and that the discoveries have already been discovered. When we’re younger and learning about the age of exploration, we’re never taught that we have the opportunity to be explorers ourselves. We assume that cartographers have all of the information that they need and now we are all just doing hot laps on a blue rock that has already been paved. But that thinking is misguided.
Adventure is not just about the places that we go in the world physically. That is only part of the equation. Of course new routes are exciting but this meat wagon that you and I call a body is a vehicle and as a collective, we have no idea of what it is really capable. Your state of mind is the driver and we aren’t so sure on what that means yet either. The world that is available to you through adventure is staggering if your mind is open to the possibilities. All that’s required of you is curiosity and a willingness to find out what exactly lies on the other side of something ventured.
It is simply the need to know that is the seed from which all adventure grows. The need to know if the mind, body and spirit can withstand the storm. The need to find the storm buried within you and the need to know what a life without bubble wrap can teach us about our self, our resolve and the world around us. Our lives were never meant to be lived out inside of a cubicle and as we force them to do so, we never really get to satisfy that need to know. Our legacy will remain as nothing more than never actualized potential.
We run, jump, swim, climb, lift and we push ourselves further than we ever thought possible because it better helps us understand our connection to the divine. Or at a minimum, the divinity that resides within us. We become aware of the energy that has existed below the surface for our entire lives. And finally, when we find that our bodies are ready to quit and our mind has thrown in the towel as well, that energy has only just began to manifest itself.
The draw to the unknown, the feeling of being called to something greater and the pursuit of an upside that seems laden with risk of a downside has an uncanny ability to show you things that our laxicon hasn’t been particularly great at describing. The experience is better described in metaphysical terms than it is with the matter that surrounds us every day.
We are always subconsciously wrestling with Sir Edmund Hillary’s simplistic desire to conquer what we might. Life will always present you with two options. One will be obvious and one less so. Most people are preconditioned to take option number one. The one where you commentate about the Edmund Hillary’s of the world from the comfort of your office. It will keep you safe from both danger and enlightenment.
Option two is always over a mountain, across a river or on the other side of that thing that you desperately do not want to face. You will find plenty of company should you choose option one. But should you choose option two, the trails less traveled; it is self discovery that will be waiting for you.
However, the second option must be sought after. It’s only available to the seeker. Those willing to flip over the necessary rocks, make the uncomfortable decisions and go where others aren’t in order to get the answers that others won’t. Face value holds no value to those that seek the unbridled and unabridged truth in everything that they do.
My medium has largely consisted of ultrarunning but the wide application is endless. If you push yourself in any capacity, you’ve been faced with the same question that Sir Edmund hillary and a litany of other adventurers have been faced with. “Why?” “Why would you do that?” “Why would you go there?”
What they really mean is “why aren’t you content with what I’m content with?” If their question has a tendency to put you in the pejorative, it’s only because you have forced them to contend with a reality that they would rather not face. A reality that fores self reflection. Why would you do that? Often means, why aren’t I capable of that? Or worse yet, why haven’t I tried?
If we never answer our own call to adventure we sell ourselves short by never knowing the beauty and strength that we are actually capable of. If for no other reason, the empowerment that lies in knowing that you are in fact a survivor, is a trait worth adding to your character. Who you become when you realize that no one is coming to save you is who you were always meant to be.