Friday, February 17, 2012

Inspiration: what it is, what it's done for me, and how a Clark Bar can save your ass

Inspiration. It's a simple concept really, but a word that is often thrown around on sappy TV talkshows and bad local newscasts as an attempt to make people feel good about life, right after they've punched you in the throat with all the hatred, catastrophe, and destruction in the world. It's my firm belief that we need to amend the definition and start using it correctly. Let's take a look at the word itself, shall we?

The word dates back to the 14th century, stemming from the Latin word inspirare, parsed as in - "in" and spirare - "to breathe." It was originally used to refer to an act of influence by God or gods, thereafter referring to the actual act of inhaling, and then taken to a more figurative meaning of breathing into others - an act of stirring new breath or new life into someone. Okay, so I'm a language geek, but this helps me in my point here, because the Merriam Webster definition uses more tepid language to define it as "the action or power of moving intellect or emotions, or the act of influencing or suggesting opinions." You might be saying, "That sounds like an acceptable interpretation," but you'd be wrong.  (insert snarky face here)

Inspiration is not merely suggesting something, nor is it only moving intellect or emotions, but rather in my opinion it is - in its true form - breathing new life into a person to move them to action. It must move the emotions or intellect so greatly as to create new patterns of living, positive changes, and improved resolve in a certain area or areas. It's not enough to see a cute report about a blind boy saving a neighbor's kitten from the tallest tree in the neighborhood that moves you to feel all warm and fuzzy, but rather a report about governmental approval to build a hydroelectric plant in Brazil that will displace 40,000 Natives and destroy 400,000 hectares of rich and vibrant forest that causes you to get off your ass and start writing letters, joining protest groups, and blog about it to create awareness. We must be moved to act.

So what inspired me to start this blog, run crazy distances in minimal shoes, and make my life adventurously awesome? What breathed into me to alter my patterns, provoke change and create more positive results? From my first post (you might need to dig through the vast archive to find it, if you have lots of time that least 2 minutes), you can probably see that my friend Joe and the Western States 100 were the key factors, along with the idea of barefoot and minimalist running, which is true and they remain the largest motivators, but I would say that these were the final tipping point in a list of people and things that have influenced my thinking along the way, adding perhaps a half-breath here and there, but never truly filling my lungs completely with new and fresher air. Let's take a look at some of those key people and events.

1. "The Book" - Born to Run. Okay, I know this is totally lame, which is why I'm starting with it.  Every runner and their grandma knows this book and it's almost becoming clichĂ© at this point, but I must say, it had a positive impact on me and inspired me to think and act differently. No, it is not the reason I started barefoot/minimalist running, nor have I begun to include chia seeds and pinole in my diet, but it certainly renewed my determination to run more often. More importantly, it did two things, similar to my experience at Western States: 1) it proved to me the amazing abilities of both the human body and the human spirit and got me thinking about what I personally could accomplish, and 2) it helped to renew the fun of running by changing my perspective and general approach to it. It is a general human trait to hear about or see something cool/fun/amazing/rewarding and wish to copy it in the hopes of achieving the same end, and I must admit that the quality of Christopher McDougall's writing and storytelling inspired me to start new adventures. That, in its essence, is only a good thing in my humble opinion.

2.  My wife. I have been married for a year-and-a-half now, and I still find my wife just as inspiring as I did in the beginning. She's finishing up vet school, which in itself is an amazing feat, but has also managed to make me think about things in a simple and practical way that cause me to want to change for the better. Because of her I started eating better, signed up for my first half-marathon (I got jealous after she did it last year, so I'm running it this year), traveled more, and have become more introspective about what I want out of life and how we can achieve awesomeness together. I am definitely the more competitive and determined athlete of the two of us, but she has had moments of sheer badassness when we climb. She has led more crazy climbs without a second thought than I have even considered.

My "special lady" atop Gossamer in the Black Hills

3.  David Belle and Parkour. In the fall of 2006 I discovered the sport/art/discipline of Parkour, a means of moving through the environment as efficiently as possible, overcoming obstacles with just your own body, created by a Frenchman named David Belle. David based this new form of movement on the training his father used as a soldier and firefighter with the purpose of "ĂȘtre et durer" (to be and to last). Continuing on the general theme of amazing human potential, I knew I had to explore this unique art of movement. It opened my eyes not only to the potential I have regarding how my body moves, but it also changed how I view the world around me. Practitioners speak of "Parkour eyes" - the condition of seeing normal architectural features or natural landscape as your own personal playground or escape route. As a kid on long road trips, I used to pretend there was a guy on a dirt bike or snowboard (depending on the season) following along side the car in the ditch, jumping over driveways and doing crazy tricks. Parkour has renewed that childish creativity in how I see my environment. It makes the world a little more alive for me, particular in "the concrete jungle," and it has inspired me to move in a direction that will help me to be and to last. A great example of David and his philosophy of human-powered movement can be found here.

4.  Herb and Jan Conn. I have been a climber now for about 13 years, and it's truly the longest and most consistent athletic passion of mine throughout my adult life. My first major climbing trip was in the spring of 2000 to the Black Hills of South Dakota, and it was life-changing. I had visited the Hills once before as a kid on a family vacation, and was struck by the incredible, monolithic spires and needles that stirred in me a desire to just run into the forest and explore for the rest of my life. I didn't get more than 10 feet away from the Needle's Eye parking lot though, before my mom made me get back in the car to continue on. I vowed at that moment that I would return to explore later in life.  Now I have been climbing in the Hills every Memorial Day weekend for the last twelve years, and this year will be no exception. Along the way, my good friend Jen joined us for a few of those trips, mainly because she shares the same love of this place and also worked as a park ranger at Jewel Cave National Monument for three summers. There she met and became friends with Herb and Jan Conn, the local legends who came there after the war (that's WWII for all you youngsters out there) in search of good climbing. There they stayed and explored the Needles, the Cathedral Spires, and the Sylvan Lake area, making over 220 first ascents, using hemp rope, homemade gear, and wearing Keds sneakers. After "retiring" from climbing, they were recruited to explore Jewel Cave, which at the time was a yet unmapped, unexplored jem (no pun intended). Herb and Jan explored and mapped the first 62 miles of the cave, which now stretches more than 159 miles and is officially the second largest cave in the world. For you adventurers, it also has the longest and most strenuous public spelunking tour in the nation, which I highly recommend.

Herb and Jan with the wife in 2008 after a hike

The climbing and caving are badass in their own right, especially when you see the climbs they set up with the gear they used, but more of note to me is how they live. At this point they are now in their early 90's and live without electricity and have only a water pump.  Neither of them has held a steady job since the war, and they make money here and there with their talents and Herb's military pension, but the key is how simply they live. They make their own candles and have a tiny house that I've seen from the outside but apparently no one has ever been in. Rumor has it that it's built into the hillside because it's actually a huge cave that stretches on and on. Whether that's true is irrelevant; the two of them still chop and haul all their own wood for the stove, and they are still very much active: Herb with engineering stuff and writing, and Jan with her music. She has written numerous songs and even has her own CD, a possession I will always treasure. You can get a taste of her music here, although I will warn you that it has children singing instead of her, and we all know that children singing on recordings causes distemper, scurvy, and homicidal madness.

With as truly badass as they are, they are the most humble and friendly people I've ever met. They don't like talking about themselves, but will be happy to show you around and give you advice on good climbs, although the beta will be rather vague, because finding the route is part of the adventure. If you tackle one of their big routes, you might just need to bring a few extra Clark bars, their go-to snack of choice. Jan will certainly give you this free advice; "A two Clark Bar climb is a real humdinger!" Spending time with them on several occasions has "breathed" numerous plans into me to live simply, focus on the uncomplicated joys of life, and live a life of meaning by creating, exploring, and helping others. 

There are certainly others in my life who have inspired me, but I wanted to share the people and things that have had the most direct impact on me.  From time to time, I will devote whole posts to one particular badass or inspiration, as to truly give each their credit, but that's another story.

So tell me, who or what has inspired you to act?  Comments away!

No comments:

Post a Comment