But my secret is, I'm a wimp.
On the surface, my whole life has been committed to pursuing my outdoor passions. Recently, I've begun to question what I've truly been pursuing. Am I even pursuing? These days, it seems more and more like I'm running away, not towards. It took the perfect storm of the COVID pandemic and California's wildfire Armageddon to realize it.
I should have pieced it together when I found myself cycling 80 miles just four months after cancer surgery. I'd started moving within days of surgery, walking, hiking, then cycling. Why? Was I really such a fitness fanatic?
No. I didn't realize it at the time, but it’s because I am - deep down - remarkably craven.
At the time, my mind was a jumbled mess of dark fears. My stomach was a knot. I couldn’t eat. Every night, when I slept, I plugged air pods in my ears and turned on “comfort” books – Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Hornblower, Dan Brown. No room for dark thoughts in the wee hours of the morning… just listen to the book. Sound like escapism? Yep, or a really poorly conceived weight-loss plan.
During the day I was restless. Unable to concentrate or engage with friends and family, I’d start moving and be unable to stop. Ten miles of hiking later… Eighty miles of cycling later… I’d come home spent, but with a blank mind. Calm, but empty. I even believed it when people said it was amazing how I’d recovered so quickly from cancer.
Interestingly, the COVID pandemic has sent me into a similar obsessive flight, hiking and cycling all over the Sierra Nevada range, into previously unexplored nooks and crannies of nearby Regional Parks and other new landscapes behind my bay city. My friends comment on how much I exercise, how fit I am.
I may not be the only one dealing with COVID angst with restlessness. Is this fitness healthy or unhealthy?
Looking for meaning in trees... it seems to be a weakness of mine.
I’ve been shackled. My restless feet have been told, "No!" at the state level. The claustrophobic panic brought on by forced immobility made me finally realize my need to move was something other than fitness.
I'm not prepared to be so city-bound. I don't have the skills to stay in place. Or face my fears.
My heroes have always been the giants of outdoor extremism… Arlene Blum, Lynn Hill, Sarah Marquis, Fred Becky. Possibly also restless, definitely hero-worthy. But with self-knowledge comes new perspectives. And growth. Like when I learned through experience that there’s also a hero’s journey in motherhood.
New times definitely need new heroes. As I sit, hammered by the stress of the pandemic and shackled by climate apocalypse, who can I look to? Is anyone emerging gracefully from all this?
What about that kid skate-boarding past me on the sidewalk—fluid, in-motion right here in the city?
What about that older couple playing pickle-ball in Cedar-Rose park—running miles even while caged in a tiny court.
What about the thrumming beat of that drummer at the BART station—making a small, urban space danceable?