There are things you do that you just don’t think about — you just do. Hiking is one of those things for me. Hitting the trail is just a part of life, as natural, nearly, as eating and drinking, sleeping and breathing. But every once in a while it’s good to pause and think about our motivation, to look at why we do the things we do. For the next three days, I will, quickly (in about 500 words) look at what it is that makes me hike.
A statistic I found interesting yesterday on my visit to the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte: of the 540,000 people who walked through the gates of this 400-acre outdoor playground last year, only 150,000 bought passes enabling them to play on/with the equipment.
So, I asked, the center’s marketing guy, Stephen Youngblade, what are the other 390,000 up to if they aren’t taking a whitewater raft trip, or climbing the 46-foot outdoor Spire, or standup paddleboarding? Do they come for the $6 cheeseburgers?
Youngblade explained that while they don’t keep numbers on this segment of the operation, many of those — 200,000, perhaps? — come for the Center’s 17-mile trail network. Mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers. As for the rest?
“There are people who like the outdoors,” he said, “and there are people who like the idea of the outdoors. Really, a lot of what we’re about is trying to make a connection with those people who like the idea of the outdoors. To create a spark.”
Youngblade told me the story of a woman looking to get in better shape who signed up for 5K on the Center’s trails. She was taken by the experience, so she signed up for the next race in the four-race series, a 10K. Then she did the 15K and finally the half marathon.
Or the 12-year-old boy who showed up a couple years ago for day camp. A typical 12-year-old in a lot of ways — until he was given a paddle and put in a kayak. This year, at age 14, he tried out for the Olympic kayak team. He didn’t make it, but he had found his passion.
I wandered around the Center looking for sparks. For signs of people who might not consider themselves outdoorsy, but had tapped into something that registered. People who weren’t just having fun, but were challenging themselves in new and different ways while having fun. I found numerous examples of sparks flying on the Ridge Course, seven aerial challenges consisting of cargo netting, thin tightrope cable, unstable bridge planks and ziplines ranging from 20 to 40 feet off the ground. I watched a guy who probably wasn’t on the football team in high school bite his tongue as he navigated a cable tightwire — then beamed at the end. I watched a very focused 8-year-old girl and her equally focused mom successfully navigate a similar obstacle. And I watched a women not-at-all happy to being clipped into a zipline 40 feet up take a good ribbing from her less concerned sister on the adjoining zipline. I watched the sisters drop off their platform and speed to the ground, where upon the reluctant sister yelled, “I totally hate you!” — sporting one of the biggest smiles I’d seen all day.
They were perfectly safe, being clipped in to safety lines. But there was that perception of danger. And, at the end of the line, there was that impossible-to-miss look of satisfaction, of accomplishment, of overcoming a fear. And, perhaps more significantly, that look of, “What’s next?”
Sparks — they were flying at the National Whitewater Center yesterday.
Last week I wrote about the need for carrots as incentive to work out.
Kate Dixon writes to agree — sorta.
“I ran a 5K in Raleigh on May 1st called Race of Grace,” writes Dixon, who when she’s not running is executive director of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. “The prizes are cakes home baked by members of the churches that organize the race. Anyway, I have never been so motivated to run harder than I would have in hopes of winning a prize.”