Good morning, League of Wildness,
Another Friday on tap! I hope you have some epic plans for the weekend. Summer is flying by. League, I have a confession to make. A lot of the Friday emails I write are advice I give to others, but recently haven’t been taking to heart myself. I’m here to be accountable starting today.
The picture above is a campsite in the wilderness near our home. Probably my biggest fear in life is losing the ability to visit places like this. If I don't value my fitness highly enough, that could happen.
The other day I was listening to a podcast – pure awesomeness – with Kelly and Juliet Starrett AND Katy Bowman. They are all movement gurus, helping people to move better in everything from putting away the groceries to elite sports. One part really stuck with me and has been rolling around in my mind ever since: about 42 minutes in, Katy says that a lot of people have never assigned values to their lives that are associated with fitness. Someone who has always been active is going to value their fitness. But for someone who values reading or gardening or other quiet activities, they tend to believe that fitness isn’t for them. They might consider themselves to be “creative types'' not “active types” because they aren’t interested in running 10 miles or deadlifting 300 pounds. The truth is that fitness should be valued by every single person from a perspective of what you love to do the most. Yes, even just reading takes a degree of fitness in the body - books can be heavy. We’ll get back to fitness values in a moment. Story time!
Growing up, and as a young adult, I never had to think about fitness in terms of dedicated exercise time. I was always active, it was a lifestyle. As I got into my 30s, I took a sedentary job that had a lot of pizza Fridays and post-work bar nights, and things started to slide. I remember the first time I realized just how far I’d strayed. It was a gorgeous summer day and we were out on the lake for a pontoon ride with the family. It was hot sitting in the sun and my kids wanted to jump off the pontoon into the lake. So I joined them. And realized that I could no longer pull my body weight out of the water to climb back onto the pontoon. It was a simple strength-based move I had done a thousand times. And I couldn’t do it. I had to use the ladder. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with using the ladder, but for me it was a stark realization that I had lost a level of fitness that previously I didn’t even have to work to maintain.That was when I realized that fitness would now be something I had to work at, schedule in, and prioritize, whereas before I never even thought about it much. It was just built into my days.
I have gathered a lifetime of information which I’ve tested to find an optimal, wild, healthy lifestyle that works for me. But I still struggle to apply it consistently. I’ve never really understood why. I enjoy exercise, whether it’s an active day or dedicated workouts. But it only takes a single decision for me to fall off the wagon. I can workout every day for 6 months, but the one time I have to miss for an appointment, I have a hard time returning to my workouts the following day. It’s as if I lose my focus on my health for even a moment, it kind of falls apart. It's frustrating to lose track of something you enjoy so much.
Right before Covid struck, I had been dealing with a minor injury that can be a pain (literally) to heal. I tweaked my piriformis muscle running hills. While I was in the middle of taking time off to rest, stretch, and evaluate, Covid shut everything down so I couldn’t easily see the doctor. By the time we came around to some degree of normalcy, I was so used to dealing with the inconvenience of the injury that I ignored seeing someone for it. In the time since, what was a minor (if difficult) injury has turned into a cascade of issues that now impacts not just fitness but even some daily tasks. Part of my struggle is that it’s now a complex issue that needs someone well-versed in whole body movement to really help me to deal with root causes in muscle imbalances, flexibility and mobility and work through them.
Listening to the podcast really lit a fire under me to connect with people who can help. Because in considering my fitness from a broader perspective of being able to perform workouts I’ve ignored the impacts to my daily life. I can still light weights and ruck without much trouble, so to me that means I am doing fine because those activities are things I value. But I can’t even put my shoe on without having to go through some contortions because my hip mobility is so jacked up. It leaves me feeling unsafe in my body, especially in the wilderness. Muscles don’t engage how they should and it’s impacted everything from my forearms to my ankles. I still go rucking and hiking and do alright, meaning I don’t experience pain and inability to perform the movements. But I’ve settled for “alright” instead of optimal. I don’t want that anymore.
One of my heroes was an author and fellow outdoors lover named Sigurd Olson. He’s kind of the John Muir of Minnesota. He died snowshoeing in the woods, which was his life passion. He was in his 80s and had never relegated his love of the outdoors to Sunday drives and scenic overlooks. When I consider that my love of the outdoors requires me to be intensely active, the thought of losing the ability to spend time there makes me feel like life would be less worthwhile. Less full. Less alive. My desire to be alone in the wilderness, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and exploring is what drives my passion for life. It’s what keeps me from getting lost in my head. It’s what makes the daily grind worth it. And I absolutely intend on doing those things until the day I die, just like Sig Olson did. It’s not that I refuse to understand that my body will change. It already has. I’m most definitely not the same as I was 25 years ago! But I’m also not ready to give up my love of the intensity that is required to feel comfortable in the wilderness.
I was able to reach out to some people to get advice on where to start and have set some goals for myself. I have spent the last 27 years raising my family and that’s been an adventure of a whole other type. I am finally in a place where my kids are living their lives and I have the time and resources to do the things I love. My kids enjoy adventures but not always to the degree I do. I’m finally at a place I can mostly do anything I want…and now my body doesn’t function in the way I need it to because I sometimes don’t take my own best advice. I’m not going to accept anything less than what I’ve worked and waited my whole life for. I am 47, and I intend to be in a place that I can, as Kelly Starrett puts it in the podcast “drop into” any new activity that I want to do, whether that means solo canoe trips or backpacking in the mountains with my sister – both activities that I currently would say no to because I am not in a place that I feel safe to do them because my body does not move the way it needs to be able to.
Because it’s been a few years, I expect it to be a long game to find and execute a solution. But my goal is to take a solo canoe trip before I turn 50. That gives me two years. In the coming decade, I intend to backpack every trail in northeast Minnesota. I want to enjoy east coast hiking with my son. I want to trek in the mountains with my sister in Oregon. I don’t intend to live from a place of self-imposed limits and I don’t accept that because something is difficult now that it means giving up what I love.
Going back to where I started this post, this all has to do with my values. In terms of activity, there is nothing I value more than spending time alone in the wilderness. It is the lynch pin to my optimal life that I’ve taken for granted. I can’t afford to do that anymore. Fitness is absolutely vital to everything you enjoy doing in life. What do you value spending your time on the most? Maybe you love to host weekend BBQs for your neighborhood, spend time with kids or grandkids, garden, or spend an afternoon reading in the hammock. You need a good level of mobility just to get in and out of a hammock! You need fitness to do all of these things. What a solid fitness plan looks like is different for each of us but it needs to include all of the elements of fitness – strength, cardiovascular, mobility, and flexibility. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that because your major love in life is reading or painting that you don’t need fitness. You do. If you want to keep holding heavy books, perusing the library, moving the paintbrush adequately, enjoying a healthy level of cognition – then you need a fitness plan. It’s the same story no matter what you value the most. Don’t make the mistake I did of assuming that your mobility will never change. Put a plan in place to ensure you never lose it in the first place – it’s much easier than having to recover it! But if you’re in the same place as me and have some work to do to recover it, then put in the work. We can do it together.
What do you love to do? And what is your plan to ensure you can keep doing it well into old age? What is stopping you from enacting that plan today?
Enjoy the weekend!