How Do You Know if You Have it Figured Out?

What does it mean to have it figured out?  That term gets tossed around with the “it” of course referring in some way or another back to “life.”

“He/she has it figured out.”

People say that, but what does it really entail?  It could be in reference to the young to middle-aged, fit looking guy wearing well-fitted clothes who rolls up in an Audi and sips his single malt neat.  On the other end of the spectrum it could be the guy who only owns two pairs of pants and lives out of the back of his truck/van so that he can climb/kayak/ski/snowboard/bike all the time.  Maybe it’s the girl who just got accepted to the prestigious law program she has been working towards since she started building a CV at age twelve.  Who has it figured out?  Anybody?

Most of the time I feel like I don’t really have it figured out yet.  I mean after all, I’m largely not sure what I’m doing with my life.  I work at a job that I like well enough, but it’s by no means a career.  My lifestyle is comfortable, but far from lavish.  There are plenty of things that I like—running, cooking, climbing, traveling, reading, writing—but I have yet to figure out how to make any of those into a living.  So it seems as though I don’t really have it figured out.

But then something happens that makes me stop and think, makes me look at it from a different perspective.

Walking down a dirt road in Vedauwoo, my daughter on one side, my girlfriend on the other, and a pack full of climbing gear on my back, I am struck with an overwhelming feeling of happiness.  Under a bright blue Wyoming sky, I have just spent one of the first truly warm days of the year doing something I love with two people I love in one of my favorite places.  In that moment I feel happy.  And that’s it.  There isn’t the faintest trace of anything else on my mind, no thoughts of work the next day, the career I don’t have, none of it.

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It’s not until I think back on that time that I have a sort of realization.  If I can put my life together in such a way as to have that feeling, if even sometimes I can find myself in the right place, with the right people, doing the right thing to be happy, maybe I’m on to something.  I usually wear jeans and drink beer, and I might well be a weekend warrior at the crags, and I most certainly bailed on state university grad school after two semesters, but despite all that, perhaps even because of all that, I can be happy.

So, do I have it all figured out?  Not a chance in hell.  But I’ve figured out how to spend a day outside, with people that are important to me, doing something that is important to me.  And I’ve figured out that that makes me happy.  And I think that’s enough.



Vices to Fuel Vices

Coffee.  Beer.  Running.  Climbing.

“Fueling” is a big buzzword among endurance and mountain athletes these days.  Hang around a race or read an article about some big, cutting edge climb and you’ll be sure to hear it.

“I decided not to fuel during my last half.”

“By the time I got to the feed station I needed some serious fueling.”

“We stopped at the base of the ridge to fuel up before the summit push.”

What does it mean?  Eating and drinking basically, giving your body the “fuel” it needs to perform.  This act is certainly necessary, all the more so if you’re out pushing yourself on the roads or in the mountains.  Our bodies need food to function, and wherever there is a need (real or perceived) there is an industry ready and willing to fill that need.  The highly tuned modern mountain athlete has a bountiful harvest of science backed, performance tested products.  Bars, gels, chews, powders, electrolyte drinks, recovery drinks…


All that may be well and good, but when it comes down to it I am no highly tuned modern mountain athlete.  But I am a man with a few intense vices.  Coffee.  Beer.  Running.  Climbing.  I would estimate that in the last two years, I have left the house for a run without finishing a cup of coffee on the way out the door less than 10% of the time.  I can’t even remember the last time I drove to the crag without a cup off strong, dark, life giving coffee in my hand.  While some runners pack along energy gels to fuel during a long run, I set up my road runs to take me past a local brewery that will pour a 6oz beer to give me the fortitude to finish my loop.  Trail runs end with a can of cold craft brew stashed in a cooler at the trailhead.  And while I would never advocate climbing while intoxicated, few libations satisfy the same way a crag beer does.  There is something ineffably right about the feeling of a cold can or bottle in an abused, tape-glove encased hand.

So while the gel slurping, electrolyte replacement beverage quaffing super athletes may have science on their side, I like to think that my method has its own advantages.  I’m not winning races or putting up cutting edge ascents, and that’s exactly my point—choking down “high performance fuel” is not going to change that.  I’m 24 years old, have never climbed harder than 5.11 and on a good day my pace is barely competitive in a small town race.  Clearly I’m not in it for the glory.  I do the things I love, running and climbing, for the experience.  And what I use to fuel those experiences doesn’t come with a sports science backing, it comes from what I actually like.  Coffee and beer.  Running and Climbing.  Vices to fuel vices.


Remember How to Have Fun

Taking kids outside is important.  It fosters a sense of adventure and independence, helps develop a relationship with the outdoors, and insures that there will be future generations that give enough of a shit to take care of the wild places we love.  I toss these ideas down as facts because I believe them to be so, but what I have realized is that taking kids out to experience the mountains is important for a different and somewhat more selfish reason: Kids know how to have fun, and if we pay attention we might be able to learn how to have fun too.

I recently had the chance to go skiing with a group of junior high age students at our local ski hill.  Conditions that day were, perhaps not surprisingly, very windy and the snow was mostly icy hard-pack.  The student that I was spending the day with informed the ski instructor that he was “intermediate” and that he had skied before.  I found this highly unlikely as I spent the day watching him struggle to hold a snowplow, tip over while standing still, completely loose control on numerous occasions, and take a number spectacular, yard sale inducing diggers.  Without a single trace of hyperbole I would say that during the first half of the day this kid spent just as much time flopped down in the snow or tumbling ass-over-teakettle as he did on his skis.

In short, the conditions were less than ideal and this dude was struggling.  What was truly remarkable was that while I’m all but certain I would have quickly devolved into a foul mouthed and fouler tempered recreationalist if I were in his position, the kid picked himself up (with difficulty, and to be honest I usually had to help him), dusted himself off, and kept going with the same absurd grin as he started with.  Despite the conditions on the mountain and his own complete lack of skill, he was having fun.

Riding back to town on the bus, I found myself thinking about how much fun this student had, in spite of sub optimal conditions and somewhat grim performance on the slopes.  He salvaged a day that I could have easily lost to frustration or disappointment.  Following this train of thought, I remembered a day I spent bouldering with my daughter the summer before.  I didn’t have a climbing partner for the day and thought that we could head out together so that I could do an easy bouldering circuit and she could play in the dirt.  It was a simple enough plan in conception.  However, what I failed to take into consideration when making this plan is that I typically neither enjoy nor excel in any way at bouldering.  I remembered this in short order, and after only a few poorly attempted boulder problems I was making excuses to myself for my lack-luster performance and becoming increasingly negative.  At this point I apologized to my daughter for dragging her along on my misadventure and asked if she was bored and ready to go home.  To my surprise she responded that she was having fun throwing pinecones and showed me “a very, very pretty flower!”  While I was loosing myself in goals, ideas, and self-judgment — completely missing the point of spending a day outside, my five-year-old life coach was having a total blast just existing in nature.

I promptly bailed on my bouldering plans for the day, and we spent the rest of our time not even really hiking, but meandering around in the brush.  We followed a deer for about fifteen minutes; something that she later told me was “sooooo fun,” and talked about it for days.  Again, a kid’s outlook salvaged a day that would have all too easily been chalked up as failure by my adult point of view.

In the end I think the lesson that I took away from both these experiences is a simple one.  Simple enough that it feels a little ridiculous to say it: don’t forget to have fun.  Instead of getting wrapped up in performance and conditions, setting a new PR time on a loop, sending a project or mastering a tele-turn, relish in the simple fun of being outside.  Pick flowers, jump off logs, be psyched that you are skiing, even if you’re no good.  Watch kids play outside and try to be more like them, they know how to have fun.

Have fun like a kid.

Have fun like a kid.