Back to Fitness: We’re Human, Remember

The author “experiencing nature” outside of Juneau, Alaska. Photo courtesy John Andersen.

I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to take a trip to Alaska recently. What an amazing place! My summary of the entire state is that you are either in a small town, or you are in wild, remote, wilderness—there is simply no in between. Incredible mountains are everywhere, complete with snowy caps, glaciers, majestic rivers, waterfalls, and endless forests and fjords. Thriving here is abundant wildlife—bears, eagles, otters, whales. You can’t help but feel while in Alaska  that we humans are a part of this natural world, not separate from it.

My fascination with Alaska started early in life when my dad gave me a book of Jack London stories. I read every single one. Then James Michener’s Alaska, telling the historical tale of this place as he does best, from the past to the present. From all this reading (and more) and now visiting this magical place, I’ve found three reasons that many of us are spellbound with the Alaska story and of course, I’ll do my best to tie them into how this relates to you and your fitness.

1) We love the natural scenery and wildlife. So seriously, are there people who don’t like beautiful mountains and majestic wildlife? I’m not saying you have to get lost on a mountain top or ride an Orca, but let’s agree that there is a part of all of us that wonders at our natural world at its most pristine and finest. Alaska truly is the last frontier. There is so much in that natural world that is still happening just as it was 10,000 years ago. Yes, we humans have done our best to mess it up, but the state is just too large and concentrated conservation efforts actually work.

As I spent time in the Alaskan wilderness, or ven just admired it from a cruise ship, I couldn’t help but feel an incredible bond with our natural world. All too often we are stuck in houses, offices, cars, pavement and we rarely get outside to simply immerse ourselves in beautiful natural environment we have all around us in Crozet. Do you live in Crozet but have never been to Shenandoah National Park? Get outside in the wilderness regularly. Make it a family priority. Reconnect. You’ll be surprised at the wellness and fitness gains you’ll make.

2) We love the tough stories. In Alaska, you can’t escape the history of the gold rush. It is a huge part of Alaska’s history, and the accurate history portrays broken dreams, incredible hardships, and tragic journeys. Yet we love hearing those stories of misery! For example, the gold miners who took the path up the Chilkoot Trail to get to the Klondike goldfields and Dawson. It seems an impossible journey, yet thousands tried. These people were determined and even though few actually struck it rich, it’s the stories of the journeys and the hardships that we remember and that captivate us as to what we humans are capable of.

Do we think competing in an Ironman is an epic accomplishment? Well, how about hauling 1,000 pounds of goods up the Chilkoot pass in winter? Don’t put limits on what you think you can do. Humans can do some incredible things and we have been doing so for thousands of years, long before training plans and races were around!

3) We love the native cultures. Alaska has some incredible native culture history. Their harmonious living with their natural world is all the more impressive when we compare it with the early “civilized” settler’s behavior of nearly exhausting natural resources. But also amazing is their ability to survive in an extremely harsh environment. Take the populations living in Barrow, one of the more northern places in Alaska, well above the arctic circle. Who could live there?!

One day while on a run in a town called Hoonah, there was a native ceremonial kayak in the water. I imagined the native Tlingits going out on a similar canoe to hunt whales, often staying on the water for days at a time. Imagine them seeing the northern lights as they patiently tracked down a humpback whale, which their village would subsist on for the winter. Do you think they ever felt separate from their natural world? I wonder what they would think of us working out in a gym. Or spending all day inside an office. Or having a television going all morning and all night.

Sometimes we have to remember who we are. Here in Virginia, in 2017, we are far removed from the “living off the land” cultures of thousands of years ago. And how lucky we are for it! Humans are living longer, better, easier lives! Amen!

But there is a cost, right? Have you lost that human part of you? The part that rises and sets with the sun? The part that goes into the forest and listens? The part that sees spirit in the mountains and our wildlife, not as things that are for occasional viewing only, but as things that are an integral part of our human experience?

I suppose my point here is just don’t forget to be human. Trust your instincts and your body and be present with the world around you. Not in a hippy way—in a human way! We are an amazing species, capable of so much. Don’t limit yourself by what some people may say or by how some people limit the human experience.

As I often say, THIS is our one time here on this planet. Make it special. Don’t be disconnected from it and let it pass you by. Get outside, don’t limit yourself, and remember to be human!


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