The beauty of the finish line

One doesn’t come out of an epic event with merely descriptions of how the 17-mile hike/trail run kicked one’s ass. Indeed, there were plenty of lessons absorbed and beliefs solidified during this past weekend’s Try All By Fire pilgrimage. In fact, three of them arrived merely by paying attention on the drive to and from Renovo, Pa.:

  • While I enjoy the state for a variety of reasons, it’s state transportation motto should be “Pennsylvania: You can’t get there from here.” (This nicely complements the motto for the New York State Thruway: “So boring we force you to buy coffee at every other rest stop plaza.”)
  • Apparently, there are now roller derby teams in Franklinville and Olean, news which came to me not from my numerous friends in the Southerntier (Hello?!?) but from the marquee signs at Skateland and the Olean Recreation Center. Serious investigation needs to take place. Roller derby fascinates me.
  • I used to think my version of hell would be driving on a two-lane road in a snowstorm. Now, I believe my version of hell can also include driving on a two-lane road in an aggressive thunder and lightening storm with less than a quarter tank of gas, no cell phone service and misremembering where the only gas station on a particular 100-mile stretch of road is located.

But perhaps two of the biggest lessons from this weekend’s adventure at Try All By Fire came from thinking about two key elements of the weekend: technology deprecation and the beauty of the finish line.

Life, unplugged

There was no cell phone service at the event’s home base at the Western Clinton Sportsman Association and coverage was spotty in nearby areas as the mountains, which made for spectacular scenery and great trails, rendered things like smart phones useless (beyond their picture-taking ability that is). No emails. No text messages. No Facebook or Twitter updates. As someone who not only makes her living as a written communicator but feels that it is part of her essence and being, this was a significant change of pace. And you know what? I not only survived, but I completely forgot about it. Didn’t miss checking status updates or my Twitter feed. It was refreshing to be around a group of people who were engaged in life and conversation instead of walking around with their nose to their smart phones, constantly in contact with people other than those standing right in front of them. It was liberating to know that I didn’t have to be witty and topical and informative and inspirational in 140 characters in cyberspace. I only needed to be real, to be authentic, to be me.

I was reminded of a Toyota commercial where a 20-something woman is concerned about her parents since they only have 19 Facebook friends. She in turn has 687 friends. “This is living,” she notes while sitting in front of her laptop. Her “anti-social” parents, meanwhile, are out mountain biking. Social media is a great tool (and one I’ll continue to adore and use, at times with reckless abandon) but disconnecting from technology to have conversations, to meet people, to be active in the things I love to do, is worth way more than the number of followers I have. Substance over quantity. It’s a lesson I’m learning applies in so many ways in my daily life.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkljLxddVI4]

The Finish Line: Cultivating Change

The whole premise of this event was to celebrate each individual’s journey at the finish line. It wasn’t a race. It wasn’t about how far or fast you went. The acceptance of each person was inspiring. It didn’t matter if you rode your bike for multiple days, did three sports in one day or walked from the parking lot to the party. Everything was all good. And it got me wondering, what does the finish line mean to me?

In some regards, I believe the starting line may be more important than the finish line. Why? Because many people never make it to the starting line. They’re sitting on their couch, letting another day pass by. And I’ve been around enough people to know that no matter how much you want to be in the game, sometimes the universe conspires to keep you from getting to the starting line. After seeing several people I care about miss major events with illness and injury, I never take any starting line, athletic or metaphorical, for granted.

This is me, celebrating my latest finish line.

But this event was about the finish line. It was about celebrating the completion of a challenge and the richness of an experience. One of the reasons I decided to start racing was because I needed both a starting and a finish line for motivation. Exercising for health and weight loss didn’t hold my attention for very long, so in my journey to living the healthy and adventurous life I dreamed of, I decided racing would be a great motivator. Constantly learning new things and having an opportunity to note my improvement in various ways — from personal records to weight loss to a general feeling of well-being — helped me create consistent healthy habits which in turn fueled me not just for racing but for creating the kind of life I wanted.

While Try All By Fire kept statistics on how far people traveled, it was about celebrating the journey at a common destination, not about a PR or podium spot. It forced me to think about my own finish lines. Each of them wasn’t an end to a journey but a new beginning. Each finish line has opened new doors for me. Sometimes those doors about improved performance. Sometimes they’re about life lessons. Sometimes they’re about meeting new people or playing with old friends. Mostly, each finish line is about fun and about creating my own opportunities. Each finish line has the power to cultivate change. I grow a little bit with each finish line I reach — as a woman, as a writer, as an athlete, as whatever label it is which may define me in that moment.

Each finish line is a gift, regardless of the way in which I arrived. And this week, I have a huge sense of gratitude for Try All By Fire for reminding of that.

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