Right after my junior year of college ended, I met up with three of my friends from the first college I attended (I transferred after my freshmen year) and went on a hiking trip. Not just a day hiking trip. Rather, we packed several day's worth of essentials in backpacks and drove to the eastern border that Tennessee shares with North Carolina. Here, outside of Johnson City, we picked up the Appalachain Trail and hiked for a glorious 4 days.
While I'd taken plenty of short day hikes, I'd never been backpacking before. And it is quite a different experience. First, you have a 30-50 lb pack on your back. That kind of weight completely changes your endurance ability. You could be fit as a fiddle but add an extra toddler-sized weight to your frame, and your body needs time to adjust. Second, you you have to mentally embrace the fact that you're out here for the long-haul. No hopping in your car and grabbing dinner at a restaurant on your way home at the end of the hike. You hike until darkness, set up camp, and settle in for the night. There is no relief from the elements, and you have to accept that the next morning (regardless of how tired or achey your body is), you do it all over again.
The first day of our backpacking trip was an eye-opener. We started off at a scenic trailhead, complete with waterfalls. But we needed to get in a certain amount of distance that day. This distance included a significant increase in elevation in a short amount of time. In layman's terms: we hit monster steep inclines. I remember thinking if I didn't lean forward into the trail, the weight of my backpack would send me tumbling backward. It was daunting, but we got through it. At dusk, we arrived at camp, set ourselves up, and gorged ourselves on Ramen Noodles. The sounds of forest lulled us to sleep.
I woke up the next day sore and a little homesick. Not only was I learning this new skill of backpacking, but I was several hundred miles from home. Everything felt foreign (not the least of which included relieving myself outside). But I repacked my pack and continued on the journey.
Over the course of the next three days, I saw amazing scenes: large flat meadows, gnarly bridges over secret creeks, and quaint towns in the valleys.
|Blistered feet are no joke, people.|
I traversed open fields, hiked under a heavy canopy of green only to emerge into the open air peaks of the Bald Mountains (where there were a surprising amount of black flies) and met many people with fantastic stories hiking through the AT.
|Bald Mountains, Tennessee|
The end of our trip dropped us off at Roan Mountain. Our last mile or two was along this amazing ridge that seemingly overlooked the entire world. I could look back and see where I'd come from, then look forward and see where I was headed. When we finally exited the trail into the parking lot, I looked back over the map, over all I'd done, and thought, "Wow. I did that." I conquered that. It was a sense of accomplishment I'd never felt before: one of victory, of having attained new skills, of enduring an experience and coming out a new person.
|I did that.|
So going back to the original question in the title of my post:
Why be active?
Why run? Why challenge yourself? Why endure the sweat, the frustration, the discomfort, the difficulty?
Some will say it's important to be active for your health, which is absolutely true. I like being active because I want to be healthy, as well as a good example of fitness to my daughters. Some will say you should be active because it's en vogue, and everyone is doing it. Ignore this reason. Others will say you should do it to lose weight,to be thin. And while there is merit in this (and activity is definitely necessary on a weight-loss program), I think being active as a means for this end is totally missing the greater benefit.
I'd like to offer another reason to be active.
I like being active because it's hard. Because it challenges me. Because it makes me learn new things about myself. Because there is nothing so amazing as the feeling of conquering. Because there is something life-changing about enduring an experience, looking back over all you've done and think, "Wow. I did that." It's the natural high you get off of accomplishment. Of bettering yourself. Of coming out a new person.
Why are YOU active?