Most endurance athletes (or backcountry athletes) I’ve met are generally pretty interesting people. There is a certain quality we all possess, and to a “normal” person, they recognize it by saying, 1. “You are CRAZY!” or 2. “I don’t understand why you’d want to do that? Why, WHY?” That question is easy to explain on some levels, such as, “Well, I love the mountains!” …but from a psychological level, the “why” is sometimes not so easy to express because we all do it for different reasons.
While I love to participate and share my passions and adventures with other people, there is a certain something I love about going out for a long ride or other alpine adventure all by my lonesome. It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s just that being alone in nature provides me with a sort of moving meditation and self-awareness I can’t experience any other time. If you know me, you know well that I am not good at sitting still, yet I am a pretty self-reflective thinker. That said, stillness is a quality I hope to have, and is a work in progress. Getting outside alone is a chill-out time for the mind, a time to think about whatever I want and go uninterrupted by a person, email, my guitar beckoning to me, or a cell phone – just me, myself, and I.
I often contemplate things I want to accomplish. I get so deep in thought and excited about those thoughts that sometimes I get goosebumps at the aspect of executing this plan I have devised in my mind. I often find myself giggling out of pure joy like a child.
Being self sufficient in the rugged outdoors commands a sense of confidence. You know you climbed that mountain, or cleared that rock garden all on your own. If a storm moved in and you had to endure it, you know you survived and are tough to overcome resistance if conditions are far less than perfect. If you got hurt, hopefully you survived the trauma and pulled through. All these elements make you a stronger athlete and person, especially mentally.
This mental toughness propagates to all challenges that we face in life, away from our “athlete” self and into our professional and personal lives. Spending many hours reflecting inward really teaches a person who they are, possibly who they hope to be, and maybe even who they don’t want to be. (Inward focus is also the theme in yoga, hence why you’re supposed to close your eyes. I DON’T recommend closing your eyes on a mountain bike though :)) There are times you feel fear and a nervous twinge of your own mortality, times you feel extreme joy or triumph, and times you are able to hone in on emotions that you have buried. Pushing yourself to the limit physically can open your heart to all sorts of things you didn’t know you had. Of course, these things can all be accomplished with a buddy, but it can be harder to focus on your own mind when you’re chatting away with your partner in crime unless they can challenge you both mentally and physically.
Here is a more detailed and personal story I wrote on confidence and endurance sports if you are interested.
Next time you don’t want to go do something because you think it’d be boring to go it alone, try taking some time for you and see how much fun you can have… SOLO! Now if only spring would decide to stick around so we can go do more spring-like activities above treeline!
My next post will be from Germany!