Why I Do What I Do (answering the “why” in endurance sports)

The approach to Deseret Peak (Utah), spring of 2010. Jim Knight and Mat Gover refueling.

Many people question me and my outdoor colleagues as to why we do these seemingly crazy endurance outdoor adventures.  Those asking include my spouse, children, extended family members and close friends.
I’m not very articulat, yet I will attempt to explain. Further down on this page are quotes from others.

My mantra is this:

Push hard. Endure. Be safe. Be successful. Be exhilarated.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m drawn to endurance sports, maybe it’s because I did so poorly in academia, so I feel like if I can excel at anything that is it. But as I get older, these sports become more and more difficult. So should they be less relevant?

Most local folks here in Sanpete County Utah (where we live now) are head-over-heels about 4-wheeling, hunting and fishing. Not me. I’m not sure most of them really like to kill game or fish; I’m not sure they honestly do it for the meat — I think they just like to be together outdoors. It might be an excuse to bond and hang with friends and family without opening admitting such. Yet their common interest in hunting pulls them together and many of the conversations center around techniques, locations, gear, success and failures. Those participating in outdoor pursuits such as backcountry or alpine skiing, backpacking, running, cycling, paddling etc. also prefer to spend time with others that share similar interests. Are we humans needy in “belonging” to someTHING — whether it be a club, a common interest, a religion, a group, a team?

More thoughts or questions below:

  • Is the reason we do ultra-distance activities is because we are trying to prove something by doing something difficult or epic, instead of doing something intellectual?
  • If I am going to doing something in the outdoors, I like to go “all out” instead of just doing a “walk in the park.”
  • Is it about being noticed, kinda like the guy on the noisy Harley or the very expensive European import car?
  • It is about overcoming tribulations, just to have a sense of accomplishment; or is it more about the journey?
  • Is it, as my brother Karl once said about taking others mountaineering, “to creat memories” through challenging outdoor pursuits. (Is that the reason the LDS church does handcart treks?)
  • Is it for the endorphin rush?
  • Is it an escape from the stress of our job, family or church obligations? (Sometimes an escape or break provides big dividends later).
  • Some of us do outdoor recreation for business purposes. How many deals are locked up during a game of golf? I know one company where many of the principles are avid road cyclists. Do others in that office participate due to peer pressure and the desire to fit in? Or do they participate after trying it out for other reason?
  • Is the reason for doing endurance sports to improve the appearance of our bodies?
  • Is it to improve the quality of life, so we can just feel better overall, including sleeping at night without issues?
  • Is it so we can live longer? (A recent Mayo Clinic study said “People who exercise regularly have markedly lower rates of disability and a mean life expectancy that is 7 years longer than that of their physically inactive contemporaries.”).
  • Is it to become “one with nature” or for the purpose of growing closer to deity  in the outdoors?

Quotes by Others

Lonnie Wolff (Regional Brevet Administrator, S. Utah RUSA, blog for the 4/4/09 200K brevet) The difference between a randonneur and another rider is that others will check the weather to decide if they will ride, where a randonneur will check the weather and decide what to wear.

Jared Inouye (blog at http://slc-samurai.blogspot.com/2008/04/white-rim-trip.html. Jared is an attorney in SLC, a Category 3 racer [road cycling], and a member of the 2009–2010 US Ski Mountaineering [rando] Racing Team)
MOST OF ALL, the Rim Ride [White Rim mountain bike ride in S. Utah] provided me with the opportunity to struggle. That’s one of the things I like about cycling and endurance sports. I’m not sure why I impose struggles on myself; life has enough built-in struggles. Maybe it’s because I feel like I need to prove to my immigrant ancestors that I’m as tough as they are. Maybe it’s because I’m insecure and like to feel like I’m accomplishing something. Maybe it’s because I need lots and lots of practice at overcoming struggle. In any event, I like the challenge — and the struggle — that a 100 mile mountain bike ride presents. I like the anticipation and anxiety at the beginning of the ride: am I prepared? will I make it? I like the inevitable crux of the ride — that “do or die” moment where you either dig deep or crumble. I like the feeling at the end of the ride that I have accomplished something and have overcome the struggle. Or, if I “died,” I like to analyze why and struggle to make it better next time. I like to think that each epic ride is a life in and of itself, a time improve, a time to find oneself, a time to make friends, and, of course, a time to struggle.

Richard G. Scott (October 1981 LDS Church Conference)
Life never was intended to be easy. Rather, it is a period of proving and growth. It is interwoven with difficulties, challenges, and burdens. We are immersed in a sea of persistent, worldly pressures that could destroy our happiness. Yet these very forces, if squarely faced, provide opportunity for tremendous personal growth and development. The conquering of adversity produces strength of character, forges self-confidence, engenders self-respect, and assures success in righteous endeavor.

Anonymous Source (quoted from my brother Karl)
Aging is a matter of mind, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

Attributed to Fred DeVito (as seen on a tri t-shirt August 2017)
If it doesn’t challenge you — it won’t change you.

Lance Armstrong, with Sally Jenkins (It’s Not About he Bike: My Journey Back to Life)
Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain. At least for a while you have kind of hall pass, and don’t have to brood on your problems; you can shut everything else out, because the effort and subsequent fatigue are absolute. (p. 85)
Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask my left, which would I rather live with?…
By now you’ve figured out I’m into pain. Why? Because it’s self-revelatory, that’s why. There is a point in every race when a rider encounters his real opponent and understands that it’s himself. In my most painful moments on the bike, I am at my most curious, and I wonder each and every time how I will respond. Will I discover my innermost weakness, or will I see out my innermost strength? It’s an open-ended question whether or not I will be able to finish the race. You might say pain is my chosen way of exploring the human heart. (p. 269-270)

John A. Shedd
A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.

AirB&B TV Commercial (summer 2016)

Are you a “have” or I “have done” type person? There are a lot of people that have things, whereas there are other people that have done or “experienced” things in life.

Karl Stum (from my older brother’s document “Why Mountaineering,” October 2002)
Some may think the prize that drives mountaineers is the singular event of making the summit — of standing on the perch above the clouds that the masses never see. That may be true for some and for me there is great satisfaction from having made the summit and to witness the awesome views. But, the summit is not the reason I climb.
The feeling is one of knowing that I’ve pushed myself to the limits of my physical and emotional endurance while having to maintain mental and instinctive acuity to make the summit and to ensure safety for myself and the team. I love the challenge of combining maximum physical and emotional endurance…
And even more impactful, but sometimes subliminal, mountaineering offers the deep satisfaction of overcoming weaker lower-level instincts of fear in favor of courage based on the actual situation deduced from reasoning and mental judgment of the conditions, gear and leadership of others…
One of the most satisfying elements of climbing for me is to be a facilitator for others participating in such high adventures…
I have seen how meeting the challenges of a climb has given individuals an improved self image, a real sense of accomplishment and empowerment — if they can climb a mountain that requires such great effort, they can meet other challenges in their lives that heretofore were daunting.

Peter Stark (Worst Moments from Outside magazine, October 2005)
Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, famously said that the whole point of an expedition is to avoid adventures, which are the result of poor planning. But Amundsen, who was a mechanistic, plodding kind of guy, had it wrong. I believe that some of use — many of us, maybe even all of use — head into the wild secretly wishing for things to go wrong. We’re all seeking a worst moment — up to a point…
Shackleton and the
Endurance is that he failed in his goal. His genius lay in his skill at escape….The misadventure is the story.
On a subconscious level, we need these mishaps. We understand that they pack powerful medicine. They’re antidotes to the quiet desperation of modern life, reminding us that we — as individuals, as a species — are survivors, showing us how truly extraordinary it is what humans can endure, how much we can outwit, outflank, or, with clenched teeth, simply withstand. We need to know that, lifted out of our bubble-wrapped lives, we aren’t the delicate, ineffectual creatures that governmental institutions and toilet-tissue ads would have us believe. Sometimes we have to set out — presumable innocent our our interior motives — and go have a really bad time.

Scarpa Shoe Ad (2009)
What you call trail running, they call torture. What you call torture, they call a treadmill.

Pearl Izumi “Pact (apparel manufacturer)

I will endure.
I will enjoy.

(Click on the above link to read the balance of this so-called pact.)

Miles Stoneman (randonneur from Illinois, on his e-mail signature)
Never give up until the time limit expires!
(Or they draw a chalk line around you — whichever comes first.)

Happiness is not at the top of the mountain, but in how to climb.

Stephen Bacon (The Conscious use of Metaphor book, used in the Outward Bound program)
The safest way to prevent such complaints is to assert — clearly, repeatedly, verbally and nonverbally, and from Day One — that the students are alone in the wilderness…
Unfortunately, in many of these cases the students miss the opportunity to participate because the instructor takes control and makes all decisions for the patrol. This occurs because many Fate-related decisions involve high-risk situations…(p. 60–61)
The family of patrol members meets particularly critical Outward Bound needs in that it serves as balance to the “me” orientation so prevalent in American culture since the 1960s. In a patrol, students are continually required to meld their own needs with the needs of others. (p. 62)
Mountains without people are simple collections of rock, snow and ice. Lonely deserts are merely just a jumble of elements. Conversely, groups of people seeking to improve themselves are common; often they are trite and mundane.
But when people and wilderness are brought together, there arises a true potential for a profound and  compelling experience. The humans offer consciousness, recognition, and worship to the natural world. (p. 94)

Yvon Chouinard (quoted in the Holiday 2009 Patagonia catalog)
Surfing and climbing are both useless sports. You get to be conquistadors of the useless. You climb to the summit and there is nothing there. And you could hike to the top from another direction. How you get there is the important part. It’s the same with surfing.

We took special pride in the fact that climbing rocks and icefalls had no economic value in society…We were like a wild species living in the edges of an ecosystem — adaptable, resilient and tough.

Ken Blanchard (quoted on Mat Gover’s Facebook page Aug 2011)
There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.

René Daumal (unknown published source)
Alpinism is the art of climbing mountains by confronting the greatest dangers with the greatest prudence. Art is used here to mean the accomplishment of knowledge in action.
You cannot always stay on the summits. You have to come down again . . .
So what’s the point? Only this: what is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above. While climbing, take note of all the difficulties along your path. During the descent, you will no longer see them, but you will know that they are there if you have observed carefully.
There is an art to finding your way in the lower regions by the memory of what you have seen when you were higher up. When you can no longer see, you can at least still know.

50 Quotes on Living a Life of Adventure

If you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains, you’re lucky enough.


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