Did you ever notice that when you get lost in a car, it leads to some serious anger and frustration?  

What about when you’re lost in a new city? Same thing, right?  You meant to find that cool art museum and instead you’re stuck in the Red Light district, trying not to get arrested.

When we were kids, getting lost was okay.  Growing up in suburban Cincinnati, if I got lost, I was pretty sure I’d find my way out of the backwoods of Darke Court.  After all, I only had about two acres to stumble around in before finding a cookie cutter house and someone’s mom to send me home.

But something happened to me when I moved away for college, and lived in a small town…and then again when I moved to Chicago.  Living in a city, on a grid, I learned to always pay attention to where I was – to orient myself to Lake Michigan (or Michigan Avenue) or the nearest North/South street, or, on a Friday night, to the nearest watering hole.

But I also found it was really, really easy to stop exploring.  Oh sure, initially I had the excuse that I didn’t own a car, and there was only so far my pudgy legs could take me.   But even with a car, I find that I’m still a creature of habit. I find a great place for breakfast, and I go again and again. I find a nice place to run along the lakefront, and I don’t want to run anywhere else.   I’m not alone like that – we all seem to think that routines are the magic ticket to becoming more active, more fit, less fat, and more happy.

But someone pretty famous (uh, I’ll get back to you on who) said that the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

So why do we continue to do the same things we’ve always done, and expect something different? 

For years, I talked about wanting to be more active, but it wasn’t until I actually started trying out new sports that I found out something key: I might not be great at the new sport/activity/whatever, but damn if I didn’t start having some more fun! 

Recently,  I found the same thing applies to running.  I’d been doing half marathons for six years, twice or three times a year like clockwork – and it wasn’t until I got hurt that I had to look for something else to drive me.  I went back to triathlon training – and LOVED it.  I started hiking more – and LOVED it. 

I think it’s the same concept that applied when we were kids – that every once in awhile, you have to give yourself permission to get lost.  No, not that way.   I don’t lose the GPS.  I don’t set out in the forrest, compass-less and wandering, hoping that someone will spot me in an airplane in three days waving my MAC compact.  No, every once in awhile, I just set a different path, and see where it’s going to take me.  It’s what the swim team signup was all about, and my stab at Pilates, and the Nordic walking, and some day soon, the Bikram yoga class I’m going to try.  It’s about throwing caution to the wind, dropping all the excuses, and being absolutely certain that if I fail, it will not be the end of the world, and I will find a nice house nearby with a mom to send me home.

In 2006, a good friend recognized that I was a sucker for getting lost, and encouraged me to take a trip down the Colorado River.  In case you don’t know, the Colorado is the same river that runs through the Grand Canyon, starting in (ahem) Colorado, and running through Northern Arizona as it carves out the Canyon, more than a mile deep at some points.   I jumped at the chance.  It was a 6 day “float” trip (meaning I didn’t have to even paddle, but I did have to hold on for dear life all day), riding through rapids that are so huge, they are beyond categorization.  Every day there were optional “side hikes” up into the canyon, and chances to explore waterfalls and ancient ruins and all kinds of things you don’t see in Chicago.  I thought about it for about two seconds, and booked it.  I was at a point in my life where I wanted a little bit more from myself, and the trip seemed like a good time to do it.

Moi, at Redwall Cavern

I signed up solo, and the trip itself could not have been more fun.  I met amazing people whom I’m still friends with today; and I learned that even a city girl from Chicago can shoot a rapid in the front row of a two-ton boat and hold on.  I slept outside every night, and learned that there is nothing more amazing than going to sleep to shooting stars, every night (without finding scorpions in my shoes in the morning).  I was super proud hat I could swim, upstream, through slot canyons and jump out of waterfalls…and that I could hike to amazing heights to see one of the most incredible places on the planet.

Approaching one of the rapids, looking at the North Rim

And if I wasn’t so comfortable “getting lost”, I’d never have done it.  I would have worried about traveling solo, or the whole bathroom thing (it’s not so bad) and what’s with washing my hair in a 50 degree river??? Let alone the whole rattlesnake and scorpion issues, and um, can we talk about the really scary rapids?   But I just went with it – and it truly changed my life. 

The interesting thing to me is that, mostly, I was well-prepared for the trip – because I had tried on lots of different activities before I got there (and knew that even if I wasn’t The Best at any of them, I was Okay.)  As a runner, I knew how to pace myself on the trail – how to monitor my effort and cut back when the altitude got to me.  No one had to pace me, and no one cared when I got to the top.  (And lots of people never left the campsite).   

As someone who had been swimming in the open water of Lake Michigan for years, I was one of only four people who could swim up the slot canyon to shortcut the ledge-hike at Havasu Falls.  Because I’d once lost my mind and attempted (and failed to complete) the Steelhead Aquathon in St. Joseph, Michigan (where I had to jump off a ten-foot breakwater into open water to begin a 1.25 mile swim), I wasn’t intimidated to jump out of a (in retrospect, pretty small) waterfall that required some climbing to get to…and even when I lost my grip on the boat in Tapeats Canyon, (an unclassed rapid where I found myself just a bit too lax on the grip late one afternoon) I wasn’t too worried about getting tossed in the drink.  I knew I’d be okay, because I can swim, and hey, personal flotation devices work just fine.

Getting ready to leave the flatwater...

Getting lost – and trying new things – hadn’t just prepared me for races and events. It prepared me to take this amazing trip – and to see amazing places, and to really experience them – in a way I simply could not do if I were afraid of trying new things.  It also let me trust that my body – at 235 pounds at the time – by no means slim, but by all means strong – could carry me through the trip.  After my 6 days in the canyon were up, I tacked on a 6 day hiking trip around the rest of Arizona, and it still ranks as one of my best vacations ever.  All in all, getting lost – and, just as importantly, trusting this body, and myself, to get myself found- has prepared me to see things close-up.  I gotta tell you – it’s REALLY fun that way.

So as you look at your “fitness goals” or your “race plan” or your “holy crap I have to fit in that bridesmaid dress by May” attack for this year, stop for a minute.  Take a deep breath.  And give yourself permission to get lost – to try new things, to fail a little – and to explore the boundaries of what you think you’re capable of.     Think about testing out a kayak, or trying a trail run, or learning to swim, or any of the 8,000 things you think you can’t do – just because you don’t currently know how.  

I gaurantee you’ll find your way home.  And you might have a stronger body, stronger will, and a better sense of yourself when you get there.

See you on the path…

3 thoughts

  1. Beautiful. And it’s got me to thinking. What new things should I try this year? I always strive to be open to new experiences and to embrace change. I will keep pondering on this post. And I will remember to try something new, very soon, as soon as I can. Thanks Sallie for the reminder to keep striving for the new…

  2. Sounds like a great experience, not to mention the secenery. What an inspiration. I need to read your column more often to keep me inspired. Great Job

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