Shutting Off the Excuse Machine

Huffing and puffing around the hairpin switchback, I was intimately aware of how mushy and weak my thighs felt in

adventure journal shutting off the excuse machine

Huffing and puffing around the hairpin switchback, I was intimately aware of how mushy and weak my thighs felt in relation to how many more vertical feet of mountain biking we had ahead of us. “Man, I’m sorry, I feel super slow,” I called back to my friend, who was granny-gearing along just behind me. “It’s just been so long since I’ve ridden very much. I’m super out of shape.”

“You say that every time we ride,” he pointed out. And-he was right.

“Well, that’s because I haven’t been riding that much-so every time I get out, I feel slow and out of shape compared to how fit and fast I’ve felt at other times in my life.” Before he even replied, I knew I’d been called out.

Do you ever catch yourself doing this? Apologizing-slash-whining about how slow/weak/out of shape you feel while you’re out on the trail or at the crag? Maybe we do it to make ourselves feel a little better about not being at the head of the pack. By pointing out that we are “so out of shape,” we’re implying that our real self is actually a super-fit gnar machine that would obviously be crushing it, if only we had been able to sneak a few more workouts in the last couple of weeks.

Whatever our inner motivations, those excuses come out sounding quite a lot like complaints. And, really, if we’re out enjoying nature, exercising and recreating with our friends, we probably don’t have that much to complain about. Maybe we’d all have more joyful experiences if we learned to mute our inner excuse maker.

One of my friends is a mother of two young kids and doesn’t get out to climb nearly as often as she used to. I know she was stronger in years past, and that she probably has only been out climbing a couple of times in the past few months. But when we strolled through the gym recently, scoping out a route to start on, she simply found one she thought looked fun and we went at it. There was no, “Wow-I’m so weak, I used to climb 5.whatever…,” or, “Sorry, I’m really out of shape!” She simply dived into the moment, worked hard on every route she tried and enjoyed the gift of an afternoon of toproping with friends.

If we all had that attitude, I think we’d feel a little happier and get more out of our outdoor experiences. Instead of apologizing for how out of breath we are, we could feel grateful to simply be breathing in the crisp mountain air. Instead of getting mad that we can’t send as hard as we did last summer, we could be relishing in the feel of rock under our hands and sun on our faces.

More of AJ Contributing Editor Hilary Oliver’s writing can be found at The Gription.

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Contributing editor Hilary Oliver lives in Denver and blogs at The Gription.
Showing 17 comments
  • James Sword
    James Sword

    Love the idea!!!

  • Zachary Horn
    Zachary Horn

    Something I need to do

  • Doug

    “…we’re implying that our real self is actually a super-fit gnar machine that would obviously be crushing it, if only we had been able to sneak a few more workouts in the last couple of weeks.”

    Hilarious, great article!

  • Nick

    I’m sending this to my friend right now…no more excuses just get outside and enjoy life!

  • Murph

    Even worse: The whining that goes on in the parking lot before the ride even starts.

  • Katherine

    Guilty as charged. I am slower and less skilled on a mountain bike than everyone I work with and everyone I am friends with. I often feel bad that I’m not a ripper, and am constantly apologizing on rides, assuming that my companions can’t have fun at my speed, or that I am ruining their outdoor experience. As a result, I almost always ride alone. I beg out of every ride invitation, forgetting that I probably wouldn’t be invited to begin with if people weren’t having fun at my slow speed.

    One of my coworkers finally yelled at me to shut up about it. I’m glad she did. It’s not like she isn’t aware of my lesser abilities, and she’s adapted just fine. She’s also never griped about it to me, so why should I constantly be apologizing? I’m grateful that she can ride with me and enjoy herself and I don’t get any sense from her to the contrary.

    So I humbly add this: Understand the perspective of your compatriot and make sure you’re not subtly encouraging your less-strong and less-skilled friend to constantly make excuses. Don’t constantly ride right on their tail, because it seems like you’re annoyed at the slow speed. If you’re on a ride “together,” don’t abandon the person in your dust unless you’ve agreed to meet up later at a specified location. Offer to session a technical spot that might easy to you, but is obviously a struggle for your riding buddy—don’t wait for them to ask to practice, because they might not out of guilt.

    If they get comfortable riding with you and not feeling like you’re just gunning to get away, they might quit their bitchin.’ Or, maybe they are the type of person that needs to be called out. That was me. And it worked, too. I quit my bitchin.’

  • BroGnarly

    Wait, are you implying that my real self ISN’T a super-fit gnar machine? But what about all this technical gear?

  • Marc Emory Walker
    Marc Emory Walker

    Hey! I know the gal who wrote this!

  • Marco

    Great article Hilary!

  • Carry

    Guilty! A friend of mine (who also happens to be guilty of the exactly this) reminded me once that I don’t get invited because I’m a “super fit gnar machine.” I get invited because of other reasons. It was a good wake up call.

    Now, six months after ACL surgery, I’m again feeling inadequate due to not being able to rip it up like I normally do. This advice could not have come at a better time! Thanks!

  • Jen

    Spot on!

  • orion


  • Huh?

    I’m sorry I’m a little slow on commenting. I haven’t been reading much lately.

  • Alex

    Awesome article. A good reminder – I’m totally guilty of this!

  • Den

    It all depends on the size of your ego

  • Jay Long

    Good stuff. Does make one think about attitude and ego prior to an outing.

  • Steven Threndyle (@threndyleski)

    How about we compromise? Each person is allowed ONE un-whiny, self-deprecatory comment either a) at the parking lot or b) at the top of the first switchback and then we all just STFU and we’ll all have a great time at whatever speed we want. I agree, being at the back SUCKs, but as you age, you also tend to choose your friends wisely and realize that you all really just out there for the fresh air, bro-ship of the single track, (or sistahood), and, what the hell, to get some exercise.

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