08 September 2016

How To Get Into Outdoor Sports (or Pretty Much Anything)

I used to watch a lot of television. As a kid, I knew the time based on what was on the boob tube. I'd stay up late on Friday nights watching Letterman and Conan, then be "too tired" to go skiing with my dad on Saturday. Outside of gym class, skiing was the only real outdoor activity I did growing up.

Fresh out of college, I was addicted to Tivo. I'd record all of the terrible shows like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and my roommate and I hosted parties to watch The Bachelor. I let my "To Watch List" loom over me like an endless, unanswered to do list. It controlled my weeknights and determined how I'd spend my weekends.

Then, one day when I was 22, I was chatting with my coworker Ariana when she casually mentioned that she didn't have television. My reaction to the news was visceral. "YOU DON'T HAVE TELEVISION?", I replied to her in my all-caps voice. "But what do you DO?"

Turns out she liked to read a lot. And she listened to the radio. She enjoyed walks through her neighborhood and getting together with friends. Ariana didn't have time to watch television.

All you need is a glimpse that something else is out there.

The concept of not owning a television really did blow my mind. But it also planted a seed - maybe one of the first if I'm being honest - that I could have a different life, one not controlled by the blip of a Tivo. Ariana's seemingly impossible feat cracked my mostly-sedentary exterior to let in just enough light to shine on areas of my brain I'd previously refused to consider.

The desire to try of rock climbing had been percolating in the back of my mind since college, and with new-found motivation I actively sought out someone to do that with. One of the newer ways to to meet people was online. In the age of pre-Match.com internet dating, I managed to meet a decent human on the Craigslist Personals who was interested in the same things as me - only to a much more extreme degree. He liked to climb, hike, and bike, and he did this crazy thing called "backcountry skiing" where he hiked up the hill to ski down. "Sounds like a lot of work," I said.

He took me rock climbing for the first time. I liked it, but not enough to invest in gear until I met another climbing gal the following year. Kristi and I started climbing together regularly, and before I knew it I was the proud owner of a harness, climbing shoes, a rope, and a rack of quick-draws. 

Then I had to buy a backpack to put it all in. 

Kristi in purple and me in blue, in one of my first ever rainbow pics.

The relationship didn't last but my love for getting outside did. Weekend trips were becoming commonplace, so obviously I needed my own tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. Because of all the climbing, I also spent a significant time hiking to and from the crag. Trekking poles and hiking boots were acquired. My gear closet was getting full.

My community was growing too. Every time I'd go out climbing I'd meet someone new. I'd spend weekends camping and cragging with new buddies. With each trip would come plans for another - an invitation to meet even more new people.

Wanting to get into better shape for climbing, I took up running and met an entirely different community through my run group. Most were runners second (or third or fourth) and had a first love like skiing or sailing or scrambling. They opened my mind even more. The run group can be credited with officially introducing me to backcountry skiing (this time it stuck).

And that's pretty much how it's continued until now. One step led to another, until it snowballed into me buying a mountain bike and kayak all in the same week. 

My first time riding downhill. Of course I wore a blue unicorn onesie.

I'm making this all sound very expensive...like if you buy the gear you will become the person you dream of being. But the real message is: you can build a new life for yourself - outdoors or otherwise - if you just take the first step. For me, Ariana planted a seed and I took action to change. I got very lucky and met some amazing people who helped me on my path, but without that first step I never would have found my outdoor community. 

Here's the advice part of this 'How To': if you want to do something in your life, think about the very smallest possible step you can make toward that goal, and take it. 


Maybe you want to buy a house, write a book, or become a professional road cyclist. Put $20 in the bank instead of buying coffee. Join a book club. Attend a cycling Meetup. Even if you don't know the totality of your end goal, you can still take one small step in the right direction. A little momentum can go a long way.

Richard running around Rainier after summiting.

This summer my friend Gavin (and his friend Ras) made history with the first completion of the Mt. Rainier Infinity Loop, a climbing objective that takes you from Paradise, up over the top of Mt. Rainier, down the Emmons Route, half-way around the mountain clockwise back to Paradise, then back up and over, only to run back around counter-clockwise. Gavin and Ras accomplished this incredible feat in 99 hours and 7 minutes, completing 2-Rainier summits and covering 120 miles over 40,000' of vertical gain.

The same weekend, my friend Richard set out to climb AND circumnavigate four volcanoes: Rainier, Adams, St. Helens, and Hood - all in one trip. The entire project took him only six and a half days (156 hours), with 108 of those hours being actual moving time. He covered 247 miles and 74,000 feet of elevation gain. He called the project "Dick's RASH" (because he is awesome). 

Today, people like Gavin and Richard are my new "normal". Most of my friends have ran marathons or climbed Mt. Rainier or gone on some grand adventure where they pushed their personal limits. To many, my own lifestyle is mind-blowing. But just 10 years ago my mind was blown by a TV-free house. Think how much you can change your life with one small step.

No comments: