I always considered myself a bit of an environmentalist, and certainly an outdoorsy person. But in recent years, despite spending plenty of time outside training, I slowly turned away from someone who loves the outside and being in nature to someone who simply gets out to get the job of exercise done. That put me in nature plenty, but with podcasts blaring in my ears and eyes trained on the road in front of me (or my watch to see how much longer I needed to go), the joy of tearing around the woods behind my house with my best friend as kids was gone. And with it, so was my feeling of one-ness with the environment.
And then, I went bikepacking—camping and riding my bike with REI Adventures for three days in the desert on the US-Mexico border with a group of people I’d never met before, completely off-the-grid and out of cell service. It was a hastily planned trip on my part, one that I almost didn’t go on for fear that bike-packing and the camping that went with it wouldn’t be the training time that I needed.
(Want to find out more on bikepacking? We just released a podcast on the topic, check it out over on The Consummate Athlete!)
Anyway, those grimy, sweaty miles reminded me of who I used to be, and what I had been missing in my life.
Sun Salutations Should Be Done Into the Sun
The first morning we camped after a long ride to a remote site, I thought I’d sleep for hours. Instead, I was up with the sun—and I’m not normally an early riser. Still, waking up at the literal crack of dawn seemed more natural when sleeping outside. Unzipping my tent, I realized that the sun was just beginning to crest over the mountains, and I had an opportunity that I’d never had before: I could do my morning yoga and Sun Salutations actually saluting the rising sun. I’m not normally a super-spiritual yoga practitioner, but running through the sequence as rays of light started to hit me, it was impossible to keep tears from flowing, and I was just emotionally laid out in the desert. The morning yoga has been a priority for me for a long time, but now, the spiritual, calming element has been re-injected back into my practice.
16 Ounces is Enough to Shower
After a long day’s ride, I’d become a stand-in-the-shower person. Like, for a while. Suddenly, though, we finished a ride and while we had plenty of water for drinking, there wasn’t a whole lot of extra for cleaning off. I had a small water bottle and that was what I had to get a day’s worth of sunscreen and dirt off of most of my body. Impossible, right? Wrong. With a little forethought and careful application, I was practically (not entirely) squeaky clean by the time the bottle was empty. We don’t need as much water to clean off as we might think. Minor—but revolutionary in reminding me the importance of water conservation.
In the Desert, Trash is Obvious
If you drop a wrapper in the desert, it stands out in stark contrast. I shudder to write this, but before this trip, I was so deep in training that I didn’t even stress when a wrapper from a packaged bar accidentally blew away into the woods. After making a mad grab for a tiny sliver of an M&Ms wrapper as it started to blow into the desert, standing out sharply against the empty miles of sand, I realized that there have certainly been times where I would have just left it on the ground. That’s embarrassing. I also realized, over the course of the three days, that in the first day, I generated a lot of trash in the form of wrappers, wipes and a couple of pieces of my old gear that gave up the ghost. And that bag of trash that I hauled out was just from the small amount of stuff that I brought in! It made me shudder to think about how much trash I go through in a single day at home, where grocery stores and full closets and drawers of office supplies are easy access. Being back in the real world, even after only a couple of days, I’ve started rethinking my consumption and trying to be more conscious—adapting a carry-in, carry-out mentality for my entire life.
Unplugging. Entirely. Is Amazing.
I’m one of those people who will go for a run and listen to podcasts the whole time. It’s kind of multi-tasking, but it’s also kind of avoidance of actually thinking about the run, about nature, or about any problems I’m trying to mull over. I don’t like the quiet too much—maybe that accounts for why I suck at meditating. But on this trip, headphones were simply not an option. Talking to people, or quietly pedaling along, was the order of the day. It was difficult for the first day, but after a few hours, I realized it wasn’t so bad. Ideas were flowing, and without my phone to constantly check texts and comments, I realized that I was actually connecting with these strangers I’d headed out on the trip with. It was the most connected to a group of people that I’d ever felt, despite not knowing each other—and because none of us had service, phones were almost entirely abandoned and conversation flowed from training to travel to philosophy to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Food is Something to Appreciate, Not Inhale
When you’re bikepacking, it’s hard to eat on the bike, so mealtimes and snack breaks are precious. And even rehydrated camping meals suddenly tasted absolutely amazing. When you’re not constantly bombarded by snacks and the ease of grabbing a fast food meal or another cup of coffee, that single cup of instant coffee in the morning becomes something you aren’t taking for granted. Being hungry after a long day and filling up at a campfire forces mindful eating, and I’m trying to translate that to the real world now. Coming home to a holiday weekend and tables completely covered in delicious—and less than healthy—food was a huge contrast to what I’d eaten on the trip, and I found that it was easier to skip the second portions and really focus on the foods that I loved, not the ones that were in front of me.
If You’re Not Smiling, Find a New Activity
After years of training to race, running and riding weren’t really things I considered fun hobbies—training was work, even though I wasn’t making a living racing my bike. It still felt like time spent at the office, though, when I would put in long hours on the bike. But for some reason, this new group of people and completely different situation, from the style of the bike I was riding to the type of terrain we were tackling, made my brain hit reset on my feelings surrounded riding. The last day, we climbed a mountain and then rode back down a wild gravel path, a roller coaster of a ride that would normally have been something I was dreading. But the sunshine, the conversations while climbing, and the feeling of being absolutely unencumbered, and realizing that training doesn’t have to be work? That made me smile the entire ride, so much so that I was nursing chapped, cracked lips for days afterwards. (Worth it.) If what you’re doing—running, hot yoga, mountain biking, whatever—isn’t making you smile at least once during your training, it’s probably time to pick up a new hobby. Or, in my case, figure out how to make the old hobby feel like fun again.
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