Recently the topic of my John Muir Trail thru-hike came up with someone I had just met. He was excited about my trip and asked what led me to this moment in my life, stating that I must be a rather competitive person to want to do such a trek.
He wasn’t wrong. I am competitive, but in a quiet way that is endearing on the surface, held to a fire within that only boils over in the company of my closest friends and family. I was surprised that a complete stranger would give me such a title.
He latched on to my admitted competitive nature, maybe allowing my athletic build sketch an image of someone who lives for 14ers and pushes the pace on any sort of trail. While this isn’t exactly me, I didn’t mind the first impression he drew.
I never heard someone attach competitiveness to a thru-hike mentality in such a matter-of-fact way, and it made me wonder what drives outdoor enthusiasts to play outside.
Do we all embody innate characteristics that push us to mountains, rivers and canyon walls? Do these characteristics fluctuate based on our outdoor sports of choice? Or are we are all completely different people driven by a primal instinct?
After a little reflection, I picked out three traits that I believe play a role in my need to be outdoors. And maybe they are what drive you to get outside, too.
If I’m going to hike, I don’t want it to be a flat, one mile loop. I want to sweat for it. And I want to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end. I do this for myself and my need to push my body, not to complete a checklist of challenging or prestigious hikes. This want to test myself mentally and physically spills over into other outdoor sports I choose.
I never feel more terrified, frustrated or exhilarated than I do when strapped into a harness, clinging to a vertical slab of rock. I need to flex my psyche and see if it will allow my body to reach its limit. And I need to see if my body possesses the same strength as my mind. If one or both fail, it just gives me more reason to try again.
When you look at a mountain from afar, it’s beautiful and inviting. But when you stand on a mountain, you realize it’s unforgiving and wild. It takes a competitive spirit to face the grit of the outdoors and still want to come back for more.
The outdoors is a space for dreamers. Even if you understand the flow of rivers, the life cycle of forests and how plate tectonics form mountains, it doesn’t ruin the magic. Knowing the secret behind the trick makes it even more intriguing and breathtaking.
I am a space cadet; there is no denying this. I often get lost in my own thoughts, blind to the fact that I’m not communicating them with others. Being outside makes me more prone to my spacey ways, but how could it not? I’m tucked in a beautiful area that has been around for thousands – hundreds of thousands – billions – of years. I’m surrounded by an ancient, all-knowing thing that I can only attempt to understand by sitting silently in its presence. This is what draws me outdoors: the magic and the mystery.
To some, being outside can be boring. Or maybe a place worth snapping a photo and moving on. But idealists see this expansive thing living in a world of balance and natural cycles. Every detail makes their imaginations run wild, and they can’t help but crave more.
While the human race was born in the wild, modern civilization has long considered the outdoors a vast and dangerous place. Getting to the best sites often requires a little work, ingenuity, and a wanderlust spirit.
I rarely want to hike the same trail twice, unless I’m sharing the views with a friend who’s never been. I’m constantly adding outdoor spaces to a must-visit list that lives partially in scattered notebooks but mostly in my mind. I drive myself crazy thinking about where I want to go versus the reality of where I can go in a lifetime.
The adventurous aren’t satisfied with being outdoors; they need to explore the outdoors. They need to take on different trails and regions and forms of recreation to truly drink it all in. And they are constantly drawn outside to complete their never-ending lists of places to experience.
What do you think? What qualities in yourself push you to get outside?