“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” - Joseph Campbell
One of the most asked questions of those of us who choose to challenge ourselves by participating in endurance or “extreme” sports is often why. Why make life harder or more uncomfortable than it need be? It’s a question that I’ve asked myself on many occasions.
I am surrounded by friends and teammates who have also asked themselves this very question, because it seemed like a brilliant idea when I was standing comfortably at the finish line of a 50 K trail race waiting for friend to finish that I too should do this race. Fast forward one year to hours five, six and seven of that very same race and I can assure you it seemed like anything but a good idea. In fact I thought it may well have been one of the stupidest ideas I’d ever had.
Little did I know then just how much “stupider” I was going to get!
While sitting comfortably on my sofa surfing channels and sipping a cup of tea I came across a program that caught my eye. I had never seen anything like it! Right there on my television was a bunch of lunatics racing in teams of four across the wilds of Patagonia. They were battered, bruised, exhausted, cold, wet, hungry their feet that looked like something I recently purchased at the butcher shop. It was like driving past a horrific car wreck; I didn’t want to look but just had to.
Why on earth would anyone subject themselves to that? I could somewhat understand the logic of the lead teams; there was a $100,000 prize on the line. But what the hell was wrong with those people at the back of the pack? There was no prize money, no fame, nothing but pain and suffering, and for what? It just didn’t make sense. The race was called Eco Challenge Argentina and for days, weeks and months after it was all I could think about. For some strange reason and much to my horror this “car wreck” of a race had awaked something inside me. With no clear understanding of why, I knew I had to try it. What I had yet to learn was; when we set challenging goals for ourselves it brings out a passion, enthusiasm and excitement for life that we all hunger for.
Our lives were never meant to be lived in the repetitive cycle of up wake up, sit in rush hour traffic, pour energy into careers, careers that for many leave them feeling empty, unfilled and exhausted, then endure a second round traffic madness only to arrive home to the people we love feeling drained and exhausted. Let’s be honest if it was, so many of us would not be asking the same question “is this all there is?”
I don’t know about you but as a child I never found myself asking that question. Each day had some form of adventure in it. We rode our bikes, built jumps to take them off, climbed trees, put big letter X’s on our hands so we wouldn’t “catch” boy germs after they chased through the playground. We caught tadpoles in our homemade fishing nets, we tripped, fell down and skinned our knees. We went home crying to our parents, got patched up, and went back out there for another go round. Each day we felt alive, we sought out new thrills and adventures that only ended with the sound of our mother’s voice calling us home for dinner, bath time or the always dreaded homework. Somehow instinctively as children we knew that it was the adventure that was the prize. The experience and lesson learned from those adventures encouraged us to have even bigger dreams and adventures the next time out.
For some of us, like me those adventures have been taking part in and finishing major Expedition Races. For others it may be learning to surf, climbing a mountain, running their first marathon, or backpacking the North Pacific Crest Trail. You see in the end it doesn’t really matter what it is that we choose to do.
What matters most is that we made a choice to step out of our comfort zone, for even a little while. To once again embrace life as we as did as children, carefree and filled with the spirit of adventure. This is what it means to fully enjoy the experience of being alive.