Outdoor Diary: Can You Find the Line Between Challenge and Suffering?

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Humans Outside episode 220

How do you know where a good adventure stops and something that’s just not worth it starts? And can you tell when you’re avoiding something because it’s uncomfortable or if you’re avoiding it because it’s miserable and unnecessary, unrewarding suffering?

Those are the questions Amy is asking this week as she scraps a long-planned adventure while thinking about things she’s done that sound bad but end up being great in the end. So how can you make that decision?

Some of the good stuff:

[:45] As you know, I like predictability

[1:05] But sometimes I don’t

[1:25] Another thing to know

[1:40] One of the best things about going outside

[2:20] The problem with all of this

[2:45] What I am not doing while I record this

[3:30] Things I’m considering

[4:00] There really is a line

[4:07] But sometimes it’s not clear

[4:30] This one is really over the line

[4:45] Is there a good answer?

[5:30] The real key

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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

We’ve pretty well established here that I am a creature of habit. Habits are both comfortable and comforting. Left to my own ways, I’ll eat the same thing pretty much every day, go on the same adventures, run the same routes. I like the predictability. I get up at the same time each work day. I have a morning routine that I love.

But every now and then I get a wild hair and decide to try something completely new, like that day I opted to see what would happen if I went outside for at least 20 consecutive minutes every day for a year. Or when, during that experiment that has now lasted almost five years and become a habit itself, I chose to step out a little and try new things as a part of that.

Another thing you need to know about me is that I am stubborn. Once I decide to do something, I am doing it come hell or high water. Why would I invest the time and emotional or physical energy in something if Im not going to finish it?

Now, there are many things I love about heading outside, and among them is the way nature constantly challenges you due to its unpredictability. That might sound crazy coming from someone who just admitted that predictability is her favorite thing. But I also know that nature offers an easy on ramp for that kind of thing. It’s always going to be unpredictable and offer change. There’s literally nothing I can do to control that, so it’s best to just let it go.

And I do a pretty good job of that, I think — it’s an area where I can see Ive really grown as a person. It’s also a skill set I am learning to lean on in my indoor life, though Ive hardly mastered it.

So here’s the problem with unpredictability and stubbornness when it comes to carrying out a plan: how do you know when to quit? When to call it? When to say the task is no longer meeting the goal? When to push through instead? As we know from our former podcast guest and author Michael Easter, author of the Comfort Crises (which Ill link in the show notes), discomfort serves it’s on purposes, making you better and stronger in ways that nothing else does.

These are the thoughts I’m thinking today as I am NOT hiking up Matanuska Peak and recording this instead. I have been planning this hike for weeks, taking half a day off work to make it happen on the only week I have no kids and, therefore, no responsibilities calling at home all year, since both of them are at camps at the same time. And why am I not climbing Matanuska Peak? Because after weeks of gorgeous weather, today its going to rain.

Now, we need rain so Im not sad about that, per se. But I am sad that the rain is coming on pretty much the only day that rain would really ruin a plan.

The stubborn part of me and the part of me that knows discomfort is good is feeling a little wussy for skipping a hike because it’s going to rain. And then I consider that yesterday I ran 3 huors, and that this hike has a lot of very slippery in rain rocks to scramble, and that that sounds pretty foolish on tired legs when you dont want to get hurt. I think about how the point of a hike isnt just the destination, it’s the views getting there — and that in the rain that high up there is likely to not be very many. I think about being wet, cold and hiking alone

Sounds like a good day to find a different adventure. Because the truth is there IS a line between discomfort that’s enjoyable in its own way and discomfort that’s just miserable. Sometimes, like today, you know what that is before you even get there.

Other times it’s not so clear. I recently spent two days camping with my aunt, who was visiting from Maryland. We had plans to take a trip south and, when rain was in the forecast, we went anyway even though camping in the rain can be pretty miserable. But I knew we had to try. Staying home was the safe option, but Im glad we went — we still had a great time.

As a side note, though: if you tend to get sea sick and the day of your 6-hour water tour looks rough, pack and take the preventative anti-nausea meds even if you can typically manage just with the ginger candies. Being sea sick is DEFINITELY over the line where good discomfort stops and bad discomfort starts.

And this brings us back to the original question: how can you know what discomfort is worth the stretch and what isn’t? I dont think there’s a great cut and dry answer for this. I think you have to know yourself. I think you have to experiment with different conditions and situations to understand what’s good and what’s not. I know that low rain cloud, slippery rock mountains are not only not fun but also dangerous because Ive been out in them, doing the adventure anyway on the rainy day only to learn my lesson the hard way. I’m glad i did that, but Im not going to repeat it the same way again.

To know what is a good adventure and what is not a good adventure — that line between challenge and just straight up suffering — you have to be honest with yourself. But more than anything you have to be willing to get out there and try and, if something is not working for you, back it up, pivot and do something different.

You can see all the photos of my challenging and more pleasant days on Humans Outside on facebook and instagram. Share your photos with me with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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