Well that’s another year gone. The numbers are about to click over again and as cliched as it might sound, I like to take a moment to reflect. A time to look back at events that unfolded over the past year.
Let’s get serious for a moment. What’s the point of it all. No, no, don’t laugh and walk away just yet. Why do we do what we do? If you’re a trail runner for example, or someone into extreme physical exertion – what’s the point of doing something that brings you moments of joy when it might also lead to long periods of uncertainty, loneliness, anguish, pain and disappointment?
Well I certainly can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you what I’ve learnt. In a nutshell, it’s about seeking happiness and in doing so, bringing joy to those around you.
There is the joy of your family and all the happiness that brings. That’s a whole different topic and it is of course linked, but what I’m talking about here is physical endeavour. Physical and mental exertion that often makes you question your self worth and at times, your sanity – that can also bring vast amounts of joy.
I spent the first 20 years of my life being involved in a multitude of various athletic pursuits. Running, rowing, cycling, triathlon (in the days when people often said – “tri …what now?”) and so on. All of it was based on competition. It sometimes brought great pleasure and happiness. But I was happiest on days when I simply explored. For example – I’d see how far I could ride my bike in a day and go on long hikes exploring old ‘convict’ trails, often getting lost before finding my way home again.
At 15 I jumped on my ten-speed bike with safety brake levers and reflectors on the spokes and headed into the hills to explore. I returned home in the dark, over 12 hours later, tired, hungry and absolutely exhausted but totally hooked on the experience. Later, when cycling became a serious part of my life, I’d still prefer the long training rides over any race. Racing felt like it was ruining the deeply personal experience of hours of mental and physical exhaustion that would always lead to a sense of calmness and contentment in the end. Racing felt like the unnecessary static when all I wanted was to tune in.
A near-death experience and a brain injury would change everything though (as you might expect). After years healing, somewhat, the one lasting impact it did leave – this near-death moment, was to remove any remnants of understanding of why competition matters. When I say competition I mean – against others. Why compete against other people? I’d ask myself. What’s the point? Still to this day my brain can no longer completely understand why competition is necessary and without being insulting, when I hear others talking about competing or winning or beating others to the finishing point in a training run I get a little confused and bemused. For me all that matters now is exploring. Testing yourself, exploring your fears and uncertainties, your limits, with an ever increasing array of adventures. Sure I’d like to set some fastest known times, but only because it’s a challenge within yourself and also you’re not exactly competing with anyone else. Set a fastest time over some route and, I’d assume, someone is going to go faster at some point in the near future. But moving fast through the landscape, with little or no trace, is a very appealing thing. Racing other people, if compared to simply challenging yourself, can often feel like a simple and somewhat primitive test of ego – something that I have been most certainly guilty of in the past.
I’m losing interest in organised events too. I’d still like to do some events because their courses look challenging and interesting, but my current real interest is within the design of a route, doing all the scouting work and then doing it, solo if need be and quietly finishing with no crowd waiting excitedly at a finish line and no accolades or medals. I’m seeking purity. By that I mean – are you doing it for the sake of adventure and challenge, or are you doing it because everybody else is too? An organised event, often well catered for with food and drink and promoted all over the net, can however, often cloud that answer.
But what’s the real point of it all? What’s the point of adventures and pushing yourself? Well for me it’s simple. I can count a multitude of times I have literally started laughing with joy when on journeys of exploration.
Earlier this year, high on a mountain in Girraween National Park, sub zero temperatures, watching the sunrise I just started laughing and realised I was extremely happy. Happy on a drug called exploration and happy seeing something so common (a sunrise is pretty common by its definition) but so beautiful it could bring tears to your eyes, if my eyes weren’t already watering from the cold. I sat up there for a while contemplating on the summit. Contemplating how much beauty is around us, if only we pause for a moment and look.
This past year, real happy moments have occurred on so many different summits and on the back of a bike during a 10 hour ride while my arse cheeks cried out for mercy, and while crawling up the side of waterfalls uncertain if I could make it over the top and scrambling out of rocky gorges with boulders giving in to gravity and wandering through rainforests with no trails and the only way out was simply to push on. That happiness stays for longer each time and permeates into family and working life too. That’s a useful happiness and it’s slowly become less temporary.
Even at times lately when I’ve realised some friendships weren’t really friendships and perhaps I was just of some use for a period of time, the happiness gained from exploration and daring to try something new and pushing your own limits can pick you back up from a low and depressing thought and when it does, you became a slightly better person to those who really count in your life, and that surely can’t be a bad thing.
So for this coming year, for 2018, I’ll continue to explore and continue to pursue happiness so that perhaps in some small way I can help those around me and be more useful to them. Explore, face fears, create new worthwhile challenges and thus be happy – and spread that feeling far and wide. And in doing so, see some pretty amazing sights along the way too and no doubt wind up contemplating on the summit of a mountain or two.