22 December 2016

Why We Go

I recently joined the board of the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) - our local avalanche forecast and education center - and I'm really excited to learn more about the nonprofit and its mission. When I started backcountry skiing 5-years ago, I had no idea of the places it would take me or the people I would meet along the way. The journey has been incredible, and I'm so grateful to NWAC for being a great resource for our community of winter adventurers. I'm humbled and happy to support its future.

Like any nonprofit, NWAC relies on donations to fulfill its mission based initiatives. Following the basic premise that people will act on behalf of something they love, and that people love what they know, we feel it's important to identify reasons 'why we go'. Other board members have been sharing inspiring stories around what motivates them individually, and I've now spent a good deal of time thinking about this very question myself.

Why do we go?

Why do we risk our lives to spend time in the backcountry? Why do we climb on rocks and huck off cliffs and dive down deep and fall out of the sky? Is it the adrenaline? Is it the adventure? Is it so we can get cool shots in the hopes of one day becoming Insta-famous?

A lot of folks outside of the outdoor community think it's for those reasons, but for me it's because spending time outside makes my heart feel full. When I was a little kid I desperately longed for an outdoor escape of my own. When I was upset about something, I always found myself outside, searching for respite. Set on a 1/2 acre, our property had plenty of shrubbery and yet none of the foliage was befitting of a fort. Occasionally I'd duck across the street to play on stacks and stacks of hay bales which lived year round under a big pavilion, but I was so scared of getting getting in trouble that those visits were few and far between.

As a little kid I dind't ask why. I didn't wonder what propelled me to put on shoes and a coat, open the door, and get lost in my own backyard for hours at a time. I just went, and was happy. Even at a young age, my body took me where my soul needed to go.

But now we're old and we have to attribute our actions to reasons. So here's another one for you: I go outside to feel in control and to restore the balance in my life. You all do too. Our actions are so common we have a phrase for it: "All work and no play make you a dull boy/girl."

Erroneously, people accuse us all of being "adrenaline junkies", when really that's not the point. Scientific research actually backs me up on this one. According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the type of person who is drawn to slow and methodical - albeit dangerous - activities like mountaineering are individuals seeking more emotional control in their lives (we are all emotionally inept nincompoops, apparently). And individuals who do things like skydiving may be "sensation-seeking", but still do so with a strong motivation to gain control in their lives. In short: we do it for the challenge. 

Every time I venture into the backcountry I learn something new about myself. I overcome challenges. I hone my communications skills. I uncover a new trick that makes me faster/better/stronger/mightier. I discover my resiliency and endeavor on, problem solving to get through obstacles. Most importantly, I connect with my tribe of adventurers, make safe decisions, and come home alive to go out another day. We are a community, and we must take care of ourselves, each other, and our outdoor playgrounds to preserve these experiences we hold most dear for the betterment of us all.

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