I was recently replacing batteries in the lighting system for my mountain bike. My 7-year-old asked me about riding mountain bikes at night in the woods (which is something you simply have to learn how to do competently when you get into endurance riding) and I answered her several questions. She did the math in her head, paused, and said, “Um, dad… that’s not very smart… isn’t that dangerous?”
Well… yeah, it is.
When I go for a 15 mile trail run by myself nowadays I assume that that’s normal behavior and I have to step back and realize that it’s not. There are inherent risks involved with being out in the woods – especially by oneself – that one has to get used to bit by bit over a number of years. It’s called experience and, like anything else in life, anyone can develop it if they want to.
We increasingly live in a “safety-first” world that’s overly worried about risk. I often fear we’re losing our spirit of adventure. I’m saddened that folks are often scared of getting into outdoor sports because they’re afraid of things like twisting an ankle while trail running. It’s all a matter of perspective and experience. You don’t start running on trails that are going to lead to immediate injury. You start simple and work to more advanced terrain the more you grow comfortable with it. Example: someone who has never climbed before has no business climbing up in the Himalayas first time out. But that shouldn’t prevent them from going for a local hike and developing the required experience bit-by-bit. Don’t ever let your fear of the unknown prevent you from what you know you’ll love and what will make you a stronger person. Just take it bit-by-bit, enjoy the process, build on your experience, and trust your gut as you go.
I love the outdoors more than just about anything else in life. I’d like to share from my own experience about how I’ve gotten used to being outdoors and why I have a healthy respect for what nature can throw at us.
Having grown up in podunk Pennsylvania (Shermansdale, to be exact), the outdoors is pretty well ingrained in me. I think the reason I enjoy mountain biking so much is because my fondest memories of childhood are of tearing around the farm fields and woods near my house on my bmx bike. To this day I still get that thrill whenever I’m out gunning through the woods on foot or on a mountain bike.
Around age 14 my dad introduced me to the mountains. I’d been hiking plenty of times before, but never anything big. The first “big” mountains I was on were the White Mountains and Mount Washington (image above from the top of Tuckerman Ravine) in New Hampshire. I vividly remember a person dying during our first climb there. We were there on a “good day” in the middle of summer and it was still 20 degrees with sustained 50+ mph winds above timberline. You had to stop and hold yourself up for the wind gusts of 80+. A guy in his 60’s had a heart attack, fell 900 feet into Tuckerman Ravine and died. At the time we heard someone up on the edge of the ravine yelling for help and saw a couple running down to the ranger’s station for rescue. The next year we were there we saw the previous year’s date and the guy’s name on the posted death list.
That kind of thing leaves a mark on you; one I’m increasingly glad that I learned at a young age. It’s the sobering lesson that people die out here. This is something that is especially close to my mind and heart now that I’m married and have a family. The outdoors are beautiful and to be enjoyed; but one should never take it lightly.
So all of this is my own personal foundation for being outdoors, and folks need to understand that it’s been built on bit-by-bit over several decades to the point where I am today. So when I tweet that I’m going for a 15 mile trail run, I thoroughly understand that I could twist an ankle or trip over a rock and hit my head off a tree (that’s kind of morbid, sorry). There always has been and always will be inherent danger in being outdoors. That is precisely why I love it. And why it’s important to know one’s capabilities and limits. Don’t let fear stop you from getting out there. Take it slow, go with your instincts, and have a healthy respect for the outdoors. It will serve you well and will guarantee you years and years of creating your own adventures.