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Friday, May 27, 2011

Life in the Ordinary: A follow-up consideration to my recent hike on the AT

So while I was reading what I had written recently about the my AT hike - specifically about it being something other than ordinary, I had the odd realization that paradoxically there was also something about the ordinary nature of the trip that was so neat.

Again, let me explain.

Upon consideration, there was much about this hiking experience which was oddly similar to nearly all other 'new' things I do in my life - meaning that it was (like most other new experiences) at the start understandably exciting, interesting, and invigorating. For example, each oddly placed and sharply jutting rock, each uniquely colored plant, every lunge over a downed tree, and of course the panoramic views – everything really just made you feel in some way stronger or more enthused than you were previously.

Like other things though, these 'new' attractions lost their luster after a day or so - those same rocks and downed trees now had become much less than ‘invigorating.’

However, I do not mean to imply that the experiential nature of the hike was somehow diminished. In fact, in retrospect I think it actually got better. This is because I began to realize where the actual memorable experiences could be found – ironically in the ordinary events.

Sure, the ‘Kodak’ moments continued to be the panoramic views and the unique rock formations, but the things I remember most without having to pull up a photo are that which took place during the steps between the breath-taking views. I can clearly recall the simplicity and joy of making breakfast in the tent and bumbling over the ‘misplaced’ rocks and cracking jokes or sharing views on life with my friend.

Yes, it’s true – it is these unremarkable moments where the memories lie.

And so, again after some consideration, my understanding of the experience on the AT is translatable to life in general… Perhaps it is the ‘other than ordinary’ events in life that provide the framework for meaning and memory to be found in the ordinary.

As always, thanks for reading. :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Other Than Ordinary: Short Thoughts On A Long Hike

"The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences."

— Chris McCandless

Every year, thousands of folks from Maine to Georgia set out on hikes along the Appalachian Trail. The length of planned hikes span the entire spectrum of a couple hours to a couple months – and that is just the way it should be. This is because one of the coolest things about the trail is that it is as long as (if not longer than) you want it to be and just as short – with everything in between. A wilderness experience exactly fitting to your comfort level is at your ‘toe’tips, and does not have to be limited by your age, physical condition, or prior experience.

So, just like all those other folks, I too just returned from an ‘extended stay’ hiking trip on the AT myself – and decided to write a little reflection on the experience. (I love writing in this regard because it seems to enrich my experience by contemplating it and then trying to describe it to other people.)

Not to worry, this won’t be another treatise decrying the materialistic nature of today’s society, the information overload that we experience daily, or some self-pining for the ‘simple life.’ Those kinds of comments are too common and in my opinion obvious and alienating.

On the last day of the hike, in the rain and wet, I kept asking myself one simple question, “why hike at all?” Seriously, why do people anywhere go out and seek solitude, remove themselves from the comforts of home, and push their own personal envelope to challenge themselves?

I could only come up with one answer: because it’s something other than what is ordinary.

Let me explain.

I read an inspiring book quite a while back by Donald Miller called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. Like most books, it seems your brain remembers a couple key points (if you are lucky) and then also whether or not you enjoyed the reading. Well, I definitely did, and the point which I remember was the encouragement the author expresses to live your life as a story – one that is worth telling. So, in my own words - don’t be satisfied with the ordinary.

There are so many things in my life which I do because they make sense and they are comfortable – and I’d be surprised if I was alone in this regard. Now don’t get me wrong, I think most comforts we seek daily are good, it is just sometimes nice to push yourself in the opposite direction, to purposely test your mettle and ‘man-up’ to your own little challenges here and there. To add some flare to your story!

I think this quote from the book kind of sums it up:

- “Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.”

Well a hike on the AT is anything but the easy life!

So that’s it. As you are out on the trail smelling like bad Chinese food, your legs are feeling like you just completed a marathon, you are sweating as if you were sitting in a sauna, you are also all the while smiling because you are challenging yourself in ways that will certainly kick your story up a notch.

And so, just like I realized on this particular long hike, I will continue to search for ways to something other than ordinary – and I hope anyone who reads this will do just the same.

As always, thanks for reading. AMDG J

Monday, May 2, 2011

An Hour Late, But Right On Time: Considering My First Marathon Experience

Yesterday, I finished my first marathon. 26.2 whole miles traversed in one attempt in nothing but a pair of shoes (well, and a few other choice pieces of clothing of course). I could go on and on about the rigors of the training or the hours spent doing something other than what I ‘wanted to be doing,’ but I want to focus on one aspect of my experience that was so impactful for me.

A modest estimate of how late I finished after my ‘time-goal’ is about 1 hour. If you had asked me at mile 13 how I felt about this, I’d probably have given you a terse censorable response about how pissed I was that I wasn’t performing at the level ‘I felt I was capable.’ What happened over the course of the next 2 miles, and then thankfully carried over for the rest of the race, was something very special for me indeed.

I got over myself.

I somehow was humbled by 13 or so miles of self-induced pain and realized that I needed an attitude adjustment – or I don’t think I would have made it the next 13.

I realized that just finishing in a reasonable time would be just as fulfilling because the only person who was really concerned about such issues was me. I thought to myself, “Come on Joe, this is your first marathon, RELAX! There will be many opportunities to get a better ‘finish time.”

This realization allowed me to focus on so much more, on the truly incredible things that were going on around me. I realized that there are many more people than I can count who would do many (if not anything) to be able to even compete in such an event. I also realized that just participating afforded me a profound lens into human nature that one doesn’t normally get to use - that thousands of people around me were all willing to work toward a difficult goal and really push themselves - going beyond a reasonable concept of effort to reach said goal. And then thirdly, the amazing nature of support that so many volunteers exhibited, who could have otherwise enjoyed a very pleasant Sunday – but instead came out to perform such undeniably important yet small things to assist strangers/runners/athletes accomplish ‘something.’

In retrospect, if I had been too focused on 'keeping my pace' to finish on time, I am sure I would have missed all of these things. Recognizing these and more allowed me to enjoy the rest of the race more than I thought possible – all except about the last 1.5 miles when I was really hurting – and do so with a smile on my face at the wonder all around.

I could go on and on about how this experience transcends the actual nature of the race itself… but I’m sure you can do that just as well as I can.

On Friday, I quoted Emil Zatopek – a famous Czech runner – on my facebook page who said:

- … If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

At that time I skeptically hoped he was right. One day later, I am happy to say that he was right on.

As always, thanks for reading :) A.M.D.G.