Just Do It All

Hike, bike, climb, and fish all in a week—an ode to our multisport nation.

Apr 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Humans, deep down, are a twitchy damn bunch. Fidgety from birth. Kinetic. Like the business end of a severed power line, our minds snap, spark, jig, and juke. We can't help ourselves. We are built hungry, yearning, and wired for attempt; it's no wonder our attentions are so short-lived. Dervishes, we spin from one place, one job, one spouse, one toy—one anything—to another. The singular genius we admire: Einstein, Joyce, Coltrane. But the multifarian Odysseus, da Vinci, Jefferson, we embrace.

Where our minds go, our bodies follow: We cross-train, multitask, channel surf, mix and match, run and gun. This same atavistic empiricism, logically, encompasses our outdoor life. We may conjure wilderness as cathedral, Our Lady of Serenity, but on arrival we treat it as rumpus room.
Our recreational lives have long been eclectic ones, our activities dictated as much by the vagaries of climate and weather (what do you do when the surf is flat?) as by our genetic craving for variety. In short, we were multisport long before multisport was cool. We backpack to fish. Bike to swim. Trek to climb. Trek to climb to trek farther. Canoe to camp to hike to bird-watch.

But what was once assumed is now declared. The active outdoor things we do have become a commodified, objectified, packaged, less spontaneous, self-conscious, headlong rattling toward Fetish Junction. Beware the new legion of hobbyists storming land and water.

Why this sea change? Has our playtime become briefer and more rare, thus demanding of us more intense and exotic activities? Are our workaday lives so cloistered, synthetic, and unsinewy, encouraging us ever more loudly to specialize, that rebellion is inevitable? If we can't be sure of the why of our collective infatuation with multisport, then we also can't be sure whether this new tack is healthy. Does this multiplicity (and the packaging of multiplicity) enhance or erode our intercourse with nature?

The answer, depending on your perspective, is both.

Admit it or not, the attraction of immediate recreational rewards and painless adventure has percolated deep into our psyches, past weight loss, wealth accumulation, and emotional wellness, to pool on the mastery of physical skills. Add this ASAP petulance to our native hubris and we have a potentially serious problem: Not only do we lead ourselves (or allow ourselves to be led) to believe we can do it all, but that we can do it (or be taught to do it) in time to catch the afternoon Braniff to Belize.

Too bad. What we've lost, I believe, is some organic core affinity with our multisport activities, some kinship with our deeper selves, our pleasure centers. We are just reformatting the Seven Capital Cities in Ten Days Tour.

But enough plangency! Where do we find that deeper, organic connection, you ask? How do we recalibrate our multisport mind to reap its full benefit? For starters, take solace in this simple notion: Whatever its limitations, our spasming human psyche has, thankfully, given us a long evolutionary leg up. Without it, we'd still be grunting and half-frozen in smoky caves, deprived of modern life's basic necessities: peanut butter, frost-free refrigerators in designer colors, 27-speed bicycles, and all-new episodes of Dark Angel.

As we've taken those important evolutionary strides, isn't it the outdoor polyglot who has engaged the world in its richest diversity? How many times have we forged ahead, especially in our wilderness pursuits, and discovered it to be a good thing, even vital, each new endeavor a crash course on how our bodies function in motion? If we lose our bearings, get warped, equate quantity and quality, overreach competency, well, so be it. If we search for adeptness and find ataxia instead, fine. If we clod out and stumble, bruise our elbows and egos, so what? Just because we go on a date doesn't mean we need to marry. Our climb/fish/hike/canoe/bike/ski fortnights, no matter how frantically silly and artificial, allow us to experience something new: that first kiss.

And if we're lucky, the new something we do will seem grand enough for a second look-see. And a third. In time, that something's subtle wonder will reveal itself, and there we'll be: pulled up in our tracks, gazing upon ourselves like a character in a cinematic landscape, that human twitchiness stilled for a moment—all the pause we need—the switch thrown, the connection found.