I have never known a time when I have been inactive. Sure, I have had injuries and illness, but I have never been out of commission for an extended period of time. I think the longest I have gone without any form of physical activity in my adult life has been two weeks. My parents did put me in a lot of different sports when I was a kid, but, other than the sports, they were not the best of role models. Let’s just say I was exposed to a lot of addiction and abuse and leave it at that.
Due to my childhood, I could have gone down the road of addiction, but I didn’t. I don’t smoke or do any kind of drugs. I intimately know the damage done. I had a Mormon friend once tell me that he had the religion for me due to my viceless life. I said, “I’m in. As long as it doesn’t interfere with my atheism.” I guess I don’t partake in the opiate of the masses either. However, I did find something that allowed me to escape my less than desirable home life and that was cycling.
I have to back my story up here because I forgot to mention that I have had allergy-induced asthma since I was a kid that is exacerbated by physical activity. How I dealt with my asthma in my late teens had an immense impact on my life.
I hated using an inhaler. I viewed it as a weakness. I would endure the sometimes terrifying constricted breathing for minutes on end, until my breathing returned to normal. I don’t recommend this to anyone with asthma. You could die. I was just really stubborn and stupid, but I did start to learn that my symptoms improved if I relaxed and breathed deep. This empowered me. I felt that if I could control my asthma, I could do anything. There was no Internet at this time, but I did eventually see a news story that talked about how relaxation techniques helped with asthma and I thought I was a genius for figuring this out on my own. Kids…
Now back to the bike. All I wanted for my sixteenth birthday was a mountain bike: a Norco Sasquatch. I went to a local bike store with my mother – shopping was always an embarrassing experience with her – and got my bike. It was a guilt purchase for my parents – that’s how they showed affection.
I rode my Sasquatch everywhere. My best friend at the time and I would spend almost every evening in the summer riding as hard as we could, anywhere we could go. We would spend hours exploring and riding. When he wasn’t available, I would go on my own. I felt free. I didn’t need a car like the other kids; I had a bike. I would frequently pass kids from school heading to a local park to party while on my way home after mountain biking in the same park. I did start to feel a little invincible because I had freed myself from my home life, and my asthma, and I wanted to see what else I could do.
After university, and my last season of tree planting, I headed to Europe for four months of cycle touring. I went alone and with no plan. I wanted to experience the cultures I visited, so I forced myself to ask local farmers if I could pitch my tent in their fields, and, more often than not, I would end up staying with the family for a few days. I wish I could say that it was the best trip of my life, but I have lived a pretty great life. It is definitely up there though.
Mountain biking became a gateway activity to other outdoor activities. I started trail running, hiking, climbing, and skiing – downhill, cross-country, and backcountry. I was never what anyone would consider extreme or elite. That wasn’t, and still isn’t, the point for me. My physical activities have provided me with the opportunity to explore this amazing planet and myself. Yes, I can be competitive at times, but how an activity makes me feel always trumps any desire to sign up for a race.
It’s been a long time coming, so now to the point of this blog post. I feel that the pure joy of physical activity is beginning to be lost in our Western culture where bragging rights are more important than enjoyment. I know people who have trained for a marathon, finished the marathon, and then said they will never run again. That is sad. I understand setting goals and overcoming a challenge – I really do – but to no longer enjoy one of the most fundamental activities we do as humans is a shame. Is it worth it for the bragging rights? I have not entered a single competition for any outdoor activity I have done, but I have a wealth of experiences because of my activities that I will share for the rest of my life. Furthermore, and if I’m lucky, I will be enjoying my activities well into my old age. My advice to anyone who is thinking about training for a competition to become more active is to take a step back and find a different motivation. Find something you enjoy and use it as a medium to learn about you and the world around you. As far as I know, life is a one-shot deal so fill it with experiences.
That’s it for now. I’m off for a ride.
Rodney Steadman 11 May 2014