I’m not always a weekend warrior, but for the sixish months of the year that I live in Brooklyn, I’m a battle-hardened Saturday and Sunday recreator. I plan trips to Vermont, the White Mountains, and the coast weeks in advance, scheduling out my life like a helicopter parent schedules dance classes and piano lessons. Even in this massive city, adventure isn’t too far away; it just requires a little forethought. Which makes volatile spring weather and the breakneck pace that life seems to take these days that much tougher to swallow. Lately, I’ve found myself trying to figure out just what to do when the world gets in the way of having fun.
Take, for instance, this weekend. A group of friends and I had long been planning to trek up to New Hampshire’s White Mountains to ski Tuckerman Ravine in the midst of the spring rush. Our initial plan had fallen through in late April when our friend’s sister needed the car for the weekend and another friend fell ill. No biggie. We’d reschedule our adventure for two weeks later, the first weekend in May, when the weather might even be a little warmer and the snow softer. But as we inched closer to our scheduled departure from the urban jungle, the forecast soured. Freezing temperatures, rain, and high winds are predicted to pepper each of our possible ski days. There’s no “next weekend”—my warrior ways have left just about every weekend (and lots of the weekdays in between) until mid-June busy with some sort of travel. So our weekend, which was to be filled with backcountry beers, nights under the stars, and naked laps, will have to wait. Until next year, most likely.
I watched a film this week where a professional surfer talked about his approach to getting skunked. He comforts himself with the fact that he has another 20, 30 years of serious surfing ahead of him. Why not be patient? Why not just let it go? Many more days in the water are coming his way, including days when conditions are so good it hardly feels like real life. It doesn’t mean getting aced out of the surfing he planned this time around isn’t a total bummer. But he can accept that he’s pretty darn lucky to have the time, skill, and means to try, and rest easy knowing he has a lifetime of surfing ahead of him.
Here’s the thing, though: for professional athletes or folks with ample free time who are able to recreate closer to home (hello, friends in Bozeman, Bellingham, the Adirondacks), there often will be a second chance. What about those times when, at least for the foreseeable future, there isn’t? When you hit weeks of flat water on your surf trip to the Philippines, pouring rain on your carefully planned end-of-season backcountry ski trip, horrendous storms on your first ever trip to experience Patagonia’s legendary climbing, it’s a little harder to look on the bright side. And weather isn’t the only barrier to adventure. Between money, time, work, injury, and illness, sometimes it feels like the most basic tenets of life are holding me back from doing the things I most want to do.
I think of my dad: a passionate skier, cyclist, and fly fisherman, a budding surfer and mountaineer. He also works up to 60 hours a week in a hospital, and he’s worked a similarly demanding schedule his entire adult life. His time off is precious, and he carefully plans how to fill it with his favorite activities: long bike tours, volcano climbs, Cascade skiing, and fishing trips. We planned a trip up Glacier Peak, one of Washington’s volcanoes, last summer. He requested the time off months in advance, we planned our route and daily mileage weeks ahead of time, but we met with a temporary trail closure. Our first night we camped a full seven hours away from where we’d hoped to make our day two summit bid. On our projected summit day, we spent 14 hours on our feet and made it to just a half-mile below the peak before having to turn back due to waning light. Our third day was perfect, gorgeous and sunny, and if we’d just been able to tack an extra day onto our trip, a summit was all but guaranteed. But work left us unable to plan in flex time. We’d have to come back the following summer. And of course, it wasn’t a failure: the point was to explore, spend time together, push ourselves, and see beautiful places. We did just that, and had an incredible time. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t a bit disappointed, too, left wishing we had a slightly more dirtbag lifestyle: less plans and responsibilities, more time and flexibility.
Or take, for instance, my mom: another driving force in my love for the outdoors. She’s a beautiful skier, strong backpacker, distance cyclist, and runner. While she was busy raising four kids, running became her go-to. Waking up before dawn to put in dozens of miles each week was her escape, her most reliable means of stress relief. It also kept her super-fit for long days hiking and skiing in the Cascades. When a back problem hit in her early fifties, she suddenly lost what had become in many ways her lifeline, her daily dose of freedom (and endorphins). She struggled, trying yoga, pilates, speed-walking. Nothing quite filled the physical and psychic space that running had left wide-open. Runner’s highs are unique, and running is remarkably efficient in how much fitness-building it can pack into a short time. She eventually took to biking, riding 15 to 20 miles daily, regretting the extra time she felt she needed to take to get a good workout in. But she found a new passion, one that has taken her to Germany, Italy, Austria, France, and the Czech Republic for bike trips. Plus, it gives her the fitness she needs to ski and hike as hard as she wants. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t still miss her daily runs, or that she doesn’t wish for a body that didn’t ache and break down.
I wish I could tell you I replaced my weekend plans with something nearly as awesome as a spring weekend in Tuckerman Ravine, but it looks like I’ll be city-bound thanks to the stormy weather. And sure, my free time will still be wonderful: dinner parties, museums, birthdays, climbing gyms and yoga classes aren’t weather dependent. But sometimes you get aced out, bummed out, and can’t flip your perspective around to optimism and positivity as quickly as you’d like. Sometimes you have to wait a year (and sometimes way more than a year) to give that missed mission another go.
What I’ve realized after years of just-missed summits and powder days, injuries and broken-down plans (and, of course, plenty of perfect, can’t-believe-my-eyes days), is that when the silver lining is near-impossible to find, we can be grateful for this: we are passionate enough about these pursuits to be truly disappointed when they don’t pan out. That pro surfer who hit flat water on his film trip? Of course he’s bummed; his career is surf-dependent. For those of us not talented enough to have sponsors waiting on our footage or comp results, there isn’t so much on the line. So isn’t it incredible to care so much about how we spend our Saturdays?
I’m glad I have a passion for life to get in the way of, that I’ve learned to love something like skiing (interchangeably: backpacking, running, climbing, or hiking) so much that I’m a little depressed when I can’t get the trips or mileage in I’d hoped for. Being truly dedicated to anything invites the specter of disappointment; missed objectives and busted plans are inevitable. But hey—at least we care. And I mean that earnestly. At least we have something to miss out on, and second chances to look forward to.
Photo by Abbie Barronian.