“Hey, what’s new?”
I cringe whenever I hear this polite attempt at small talk. I know it’s benign and friendly, but to me it always sounds like a challenge, as in:“Is your life interesting or not?” I’m not always sure how to answer this loaded question, but always comes up with the dreaded “Not much. Same old–you?”
Because that’s the truth isn’t it? I’ll mentally scroll through the past few days, days that blur into each other—wake up, go to work, pick up my daughter from school, maybe go to the same park for a walk, drive home, have dinner with the family, bedtime stories, tooth brushing, lights out. Rinse, lather, repeat. Weekends, which are supposed to be fun and different from the routine almost always are the same and if I’m not mindful will be wasted away doing the usual house chores and yard work. You get the picture.
It’s no wonder that the lack of any interesting response to that perfectly benign question always sends me into a tailspin of brief existential crisis. Isn’t there anything interesting in my life, anymore? Am I a soulless machine?
Then I discovered Alastair Humphrey’s website, and it challenged my “can’t do” attitude. He is an adventurer, author and motivational speaker who writes about the importance of microadventures- mini adventures that offer “something different, something exciting-but cheap, simple, short and on your doorstep.
Inspired by Alastair’s blog, I finally went hiking. So far this month, I have gone hiking twice– once at Ramapo State Park and more recently at Bear Mountain in NY. Both are within a 40 to 60 minute car ride from where I live. This time, I resisted the urge to over- plan. I googled, “hiking trails in New Jersey”, chose what looked like a beginner’s trail and convinced my sister that we should go.
I am a planner by nature. I love making lists. I am that person who buys guidebooks, a month or so prior to a trip and actually read and bookmark said guidebook. I actually follow the guidebook too. Yeah– I’m not much for spontaneity. The thing about planning is you could overdo it. For instance, you do copious amounts of research about the place you’re going, then worry about what equipment or clothing you should bring, then you get caught up in details like: which hiking trail is the best or what is the best hiking shoe I need to buy before going on this hike? You get bombarded by the myriad of options and you inevitably become frozen by indecision.
But that day, we just went. It was a beautiful, sunny day and there was no time to waste. And you know what? It went fine. When you plan too much, you don’t leave much room for surprises. Apart from knowing the name of the place plus a few facts –easy, beginner’s trail, free parking; I did not know what to expect. And that’s the whole point of a microadventure isn’t it? To leave room for surprise and a bit of adventure in our lives.
MacEvoy Trail at Ramapo Reservation. My sister leading the blue blazes trail up to Van Slyke Mansion Ruins
I’ve always enjoyed mountains and hiking. But besides a sole hiking trip in Senoloan Falls when I was in college, I barely even went. One of the items on my bucket list is to go hiking in the Grand Canyon. Out of reach though that dream may be for now; it doesn’t mean I can’t go hiking anywhere else. The trick is to get started. Before I began my passion project—which is to go on a microadventure once a month; I had always thought—someday I’ll go hiking again. The problem with waiting is, you put your life on hold until you reach that perfect moment. You tell yourself: someday I’ll go on a hike when the kids are grown, when I’m fit enough or when I have the perfect hiking equipment or after I buy those necessary hiking boots. Surely I can’t go on hike if I’m out of shape or if I’m not properly attired. But then, I realized, I’ve been making excuses for myself all these years of waiting. It never occurred to me that I could just– Begin.
Mid-hike break. taking in the serene Ramapo Lake
Begin where you are now.
Because waiting is not an option. Enough dreaming/planning, more doing. Lately, I feel this deep urge to start living my life to the fullest. I am in my mid-30s and who knows if I’ll ever be as strong as I am now. I wasted a lot of years in my 20s waiting: waiting to be in perfect shape to do things I’ve always wanted to do—as if all the fun, adventurous things in life are only reserved for those with perfectly-fit bodies. No, I’m done with waiting. I will begin and just do what I can.
A few years back, on a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, my husband and I went on this outdoor zip line adventure. It was touted to be Mexico’s highest and fastest zip line with speeds of up to 100 mph and a length of over 1,200 meters (nearly 4,000 feet). I don’t know what convinced us to go; I was nowhere fit and he has a fear of heights. But we went and I’m glad we did. To this day, it still ranks as one of the most adventurous things I’ve ever done. I remember flying across the dessert canyons of Los Cabos, the wind lashing against my skin, my mouth dry with adrenaline and arms sore from hanging on to the zip line. I remember the thrill, the feeling of being fully alive in that moment. I thought it was just supposed to be zip lines but I got pushed to climb a natural rock- climbing wall, suspended bridges, cliff-side rappelling, crazy ladders besides doing those zip lines of various heights and lengths. I remember, at one point, they asked us to swing on this “Tarzan Swing” and I didn’t want to do it. A gentle voice behind me said: “Just do it. You may never get this chance again.” It was this frail-looking lady, probably in her 50s and she looked as scared as I was. She said she just had a knee replacement and if she could do it, there’s no reason I couldn’t. Afterwards, she said something I’ll never forget. She said: “Life is short. I’m already in my mid 50s and who knows if I’ll ever get another chance to do this.”
It dawned on me how much time we waste aspiring to do many things in this life. We aspire all over the place. But aspiring doesn’t equal doing.
The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Those microadventures were a success because I managed to push through on my plan. It took me a while, but eventually I reached the end of those trails. My legs burned and felt like jelly from exertion but I’ve never felt so alive and happy. I pushed myself hard going on those hikes. I have not pushed myself hard in a very long time. It’s a very good feeling to feel capable, to be able to trust my body again. From where I stood on those summits, I could make out the silhouette of cities and mountains in the distance.Up there, the air was crisp and cool. I sat down on one of the boulders and took a nice, long, deep breath. The view was spectacular– because I earned it.
Savoring the crisp mountain air and the view. photo credit: author’s own. bear mountain