Ted Talks: Sole to Soul

By Ted Spiker

On the 1–10 adventure scale (1 being snuggled in bed, 10 being an Everest attempt), I would probably rate myself at about a 4. Try new things? Yes. Do so when there is a high chance that you will plummet to a floor of rocks? Not so much.

In the journey to get and stay healthy, I have always found value in controlled adventures — that is, having experiences where you get mini-rushes from attempting something you have never done. Over the years, I have tried sticking my toes in those waters. Once, I joined a team for an adventure race — a half-day competition where a group of five had to mountain bike, canoe, swim, run and hike together over rough-ish terrain. Early in the day, I snapped the seat right off my bike while cruising downhill, which made for a spectacular crash and was a wakeup call to lay off the mashed potatoes.

Twice I have plugged through Tough Mudders — 12-mile obstacle-course events in which you climb, scale, trudge, run through dangling high-voltage wires, and jump in a trash bin of 35-degree ice-filled water just to swim to the other side to get out. In both of those multi-hour events, I would not have been able to finish had I not had friends (and strangers) help me up and over the walls. One obstacle is a 15-foot slippery quarter-pipe wall in which you run as hard as you can, leap up, and hope to the deity of your choice that some folks will grab your hands and lift your pudding-packed paunch up to the top. (And by “your,” I mean “my.”)

One of my most memorable adventures came when I met up with some college friends for a weekend trip. We had decided to do a nice, easy hike up Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. Halfway up, the sole just came right off of one of my hiking boots. Apparently, the old shoes had some rubber rot, and it just separated from the shoe with no warning. Walking in one full boot with the inside liner of the malfunctioned boot touching the terrain was slightly uncomfortable on the rocky paths. Close to the top, the second sole came off. So now I was left with essentially just socks to walk all the way back down the mountain to our car.

Our pace slowed over the hours, as each step had the potential to bring a string of “sonuvas” out of my mouth. We had headlamps when the darkness came, but we could not see much of the trail. My friend Mark stayed with me each step (literally that day and metaphorically throughout our lives), letting me hang on to his shoulder, even though I slowed us way down. I apologized, but he was unfazed. He told stories of the day that the same thing had happened to him.

We earned our mashed potatoes that day, and came away with new stories to share. But it was also a reminder that the best adventures are not always about what you accomplish, but who you accomplish them with.

Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) is the chair of the University of Florida department of journalism, as well as a health and fitness writer. He is the author of DOWN SIZE, a book about the science and soul of weight loss and dieting.


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