A friend of mine wrote something recently about her attempt at hiking the rugged Trans Adirondack Route. Though the attempt took place last year, Liz did not feel up for writing about the journey until recently.
In Liz’s words:
A year ago today, I started the Trans Adirondack Route—a 235 mile hike across the Adirondack Park, the largest forest preserve in the Lower 48. I never finished it—the TADK has a notoriously high drop off rate—and was ashamed enough about it that I never did a write-up about the trail. A year later, I’m able to reflect on its beauty and enjoy the trail for what I was able to complete, instead of what I missed.
Some good advice there. In our often goal oriented outdoor culture, we often look at what was not completed. The mountain was not climbed because we had to turn around due to weather. Or received a Did Not Finish (DNF’d) at a trail running event. Or not completing a 200+ mile hiking route.
Goals are good and can push us into accomplishing something wonderful.
But we also need to take stock of why we spend time in the outdoors.
Is it something that is a check box and miles achieved? Or something less tangible?
I wrote Liz on her Facebook page. I told her to not to be ashamed of hikes not completed.
I think the takeaway is both to enjoy what was accomplished, but also to learn from what was not accomplished.
Any outdoor experience adds to what a person has for memories, increases the knowledge set, explores what can be accomplished in the outdoor realm and, perhaps most importantly, lets a person find out how they wish to spend their precious free time outdoors.
In my own case, I had to end an attempt on the Uinta Highline Trail. A friend had a shin splint and could not make the mileage with the food we had on us.
Rather than lament not having another bowl of alphabet soup to put on my hiking resume, I can look back at perhaps the most amazing valley I’ve seen in my backpacking adventures. Something I would not have seen hiking the originally planned route.
I also learn from goals I did not personally complete.
In 2004 and 2005, I briefly flirted with trail runs and ultras.
The catalyst, as many events in life, was partially due to a relationship.
My on-again/off-again girlfriend at the time did not appreciate my outdoor absences. As she once told me: “The outdoors for you is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle”. Though I do not disappear for months at a time anymore, the majority of my free time is planned around time spent in the outdoors. And, as mentioned previously, I am attempting to craft a lifestyle where if taking off for months at a time is not feasible, then a few weeks in a year seems realistic.
Ten years ago, this type of balance was not on my mental horizon.
I suspect the girlfriend from ten years ago would still not appreciate fashioning a life so as to create more time outdoors (if in a more sustainable manner).
My thoughts, at the time, were that 50 or 100 mile runs would be a way to spend time outdoors and challenge myself physically in an extreme way.
So I completed trail runs and even road runs. I did some (slow) marathons. I did a 50 mile run. I signed up for the famous Leadville 100.
But I DNF’d around mile seventy-one on my attempt.
I trained half-heartedly. Running and power-hiking took up as much time as my backpacking or long day hikes, but just weren’t as enjoyable for me. A schedule for training felt like work when I was already working full-time. I wanted to look at a map and hike over passes, take some photos and just happen to be out 25+ miles in a day..as opposed to planning to be out 25+ miles to make a mileage goal.
More importantly, though, out of not achieving the goal of completing the Leadville 100, I learned what I really crave from the outdoors.
A structured outdoor event, in a large group setting no less, just wasn’t for me.
I realized I needed more than just a physical challenge. Running/hiking on an established route with aid stations at marked intervals did not fit me. It wasn’t that the racing environment (with its wonderful volunteers, dedicated directors, and very friendly fellow runners) was not good. It was that I was not a good fit for the racing environment. And perhaps why I am having similar feelings about the current state of established and well-known hiking trails.
Besides the beauty and the physical challenge found at organized trail runs, I found I needed “something else” from the outdoors.
Solitude, wildness, not being on someone else’s schedule, a sense of adventure, the journey….
All things that *I* could not find in an organized race or aspects of the race that did not fit *my* personality.
Outdoor failures may be failures..but that does not mean they aren’t valuable experiences.
In the example of the Uintas, I have a memory of a valley that will set the bar very high for any future places.
And in the Leadville example? It solidified my feelings of how I wish to spend time in the outdoors and my free time in general.
The time bank is limited. Once I spend my time from this bank, it is gone.
And out of this Leadville failure, the concept how I wish to use my limited time bank became clear.
Embrace our failures. Learn from them. Cherish the memories that were made.
The failures help transform us into the kind of outdoors people we wish to become.