I’ve been decidedly non-extreme lately. For those of you that are here reading partly or entirely for the experiments beyond the bounds of comfortable 21st century American life, fear not – I still like to sleep in tent pitched on the snow, keep the thermostat under 59 F, take showers as cold as they’ll go, lift weights until I can’t anymore, procure my own food and experiment in human locomotion. There is part of me that is hard and stoic and wild and requires physically uncomfortable adventure with uncertain outcomes. There are adventures planned for 2020 that will check all of those boxes. The last few weeks, though, have been about getting myself to “slow it right down”.
I think I do story-telling better than abstract musing, so I’ll just get to it and let these few briefly told episodes do the illustration:
Historical Tale 1:
A few years ago I was at a barbeque in Boulder, CO. I was training huge miles and long hours for triathlon, and I didn’t really make time for any people or extracurriculars but, somehow, I still found my way to this social gathering. Maybe I was persuaded by the idea of of filling my belly with a second lunch or a first dinner. Anyway, a 30-second conversation still sticks with me and comes back with clarity in its pertinence to my life today:
Dude: “I was hanging out with my cousin the other day and he was telling me about a 3-night backcountry hike he did with his buddy. He went on about a bunch of stories of getting into the backcountry, going off trail, covering miles. He wants me to go on these excursions, wants us to go out and make stories of adventure. He at least wants me to share a story with him, to reciprocate with a tale of my own. But, like, dude. I don’t want to hike 6 miles in from the trailhead. I’ll go fly fishing 40 or 400 yards from the road. That’s fine. Like, I’m just not extreme.”
I don’t know what I actually said in response. But I know what I thought, “Scoff! Pfff. Soft, bro. I rode the mountains for 5 hours this morning, ran 40 minutes off the bike and cooled down with a 2000 meter swim. I cannot right now and will likely never emphasize with your non-extremism.”
Historical Tale 2:
Toward the end of 2017, I was silly fit and absurdly physically capable in the realm of swim-bike-run. As is all too common when your body is that lean, oxidized and fatigued, I had a mild illness. Just a little cold, maybe a light fever. I was finishing the ramp up to Kona, the Ironman World Championship, and I didn’t have time for that baby ass cold. So I let my ego pull my body out of bed, laced up the run shoes and ran down the Queen K highway. I pounded across the pavement and cooked in Hawaii’s heat, humidity and rays for something like 16 or 18 miles. Pure ego, pride, ignorance, desire. 10 days later I was still sick as I checked-in my gear for the next morning’s race. I’m sure you can guess that this "extreme" dumbassery did not lead to my pinnacle performance.
Today’s Tale 1:
I stretched it a little bit thin the last couple weeks with travel, activity and lack of sleep. As is liable to happen, I started feeling a bit ill. Flu-like. (PSA to you and to future me: We’re running around in a crowded ecosystem of petri-dishes harboring, mutating and propagating adverse bacteria and viruses. Flu shots and other vaccines are miraculous protections from these virulent agents. I didn’t get a flu shot this year. You should always get a flu shot. Duh. It’s free.) A few days ago I had chills and aches, but, for the first time in years, I acted not like a masochistic pedal-to-the-metal dumbass. Instead of getting my fix of endorphins and feelings of self-worth through weights, running and sweating it out in the sauna, I slept. How decidedly non-extreme. 36 hours of non-extremism later and I’m feeling dang near 100%. How about that.
Today’s Tale 2 (2020 Backyard Adventure 2 & 3):
I’m not going to pretend this was grand adventure. It wasn’t. But it was just right. These were local-scale right-sized hardly-adventures. I’m not always extreme ;)
1. I walked in the backyard. Literally, the backyard that I grew up in. A friend and I took a 20-minute walk in the field behind my house. We followed rabbit, deer, squirrel and fox tracks. We crunched through the snow and came home with wet shoes and easy grins.
2. I walked downtown Milwaukee. I took a couple hours and went for a good and long, cold, solo walk.
My route-finding and map skills are solid, if I’m walking or riding a bike. However, I create zero mental map and cannot repeat a route for my life if I’m driving or riding in a car. I’ve lived 10 miles from Milwaukee for the better chunk of my life, but I could hardly start to fill in a map or find my way unassisted from one spot to another. It’s good to finally start to understand the geography of my "hometown city".
Also noted on this solo walk – Downtown is a first-rate urban locale. Giannis has made the Fiserv area as good as any entertainment district in any city. And from McKinley Park to the Art Museum is a lovely stroll along the bluff, and on this afternoon Lake Michigan reflected beautiful colors as the sun took its shallow winter arc behind the towers of Mason Street.
Would I still get pumped on riding up a twisty mountain road for two hours and then flying down faster than the cars on a plastic bikeframe and ¾” wide tires? You betcha. But three years later and I am finally beginning to understand. I can start to empathize with dude’s story in Boulder, his expression of “I’m just not extreme”. It’s not a competition. My book of life is not to be compared to anybody else’s. And even if it is, every chapter being another “extreme” activity is not a thicker, wiser or even a more interesting book. I’m not sure where this meandering journey is headed. But it seems like the book will be a dynamic story overflowing with joy, slowly-realized irony, beautiful places, beautiful people and activities extreme and benign, extraordinary and ordinary.
Thanks for reading and being part of the Tale. It sure was nice and I say with the highest recommendation: Slow down, grab a friend or go alone, step into the backyard and simply take a walk.