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On Failing, Outdoors

Posted by Emily Larson on
Failing, outdoors

We can all say a lot of things about 2020. In fact, most things have already been said. It’s been a doozy. For me, and I think many others, it’s been a year of reframing. Reframing expectations, reframing timelines, reframing “normal” and “safe.” It’s also been one heck of a year for the outdoor industry, and our outdoor spaces. National parks, state parks, city parks, trails and campgrounds saw a massive uptick in use. These open spaces full of fresh air became one of our few sources of novelty and places we sought some semblance of social gathering.


Personally, I made use of these spaces by picking up a number of new outdoor hobbies in 2020. I bought a bike in the spring and started riding the single track at Tut Hill. I said yes to a mountain bike race shortly after. I joined my coworkers in climbing trips to the Palisades on long summer evenings. And I set the lofty goal of through-hiking South Dakota’s own Centennial Trail after not having backpacked for 3 years or so. Then, I promptly failed at each of these hobbies listed. Joyfully!


I got extreme last place in my mountain bike race, a coveted position. I tracked with my fellow racers for a bit, rounded a corner and realized we were expected to bike UP the sled hill and hopped right off my bike to walk my butt up that stretch. The only racers I saw thereafter were the ones lapping me. I have never completed a climb without hefty help from my belayer yanking me up the tricky parts where my forearms are jell-o and my fingers don’t work. And I hiked 2 days worth of the Centennial Trail and got chased off trail by bad blisters and a truly prolific amount of bees. I cancelled a backpacking trip in the Badlands in favor of doing absolutely nothing but lounging in the river in Spearfish. And I flatly refused to bike up any hills at all on a bike trip with my brother, which seems to be a theme now that I’ve typed it out.


All of this to say, by most metrics my performance is lacking in every attempt I’ve detailed here. But man, did I have the most fun of any summer season. I think sometimes we assume that failures like these indicate that we are not suited to the endeavor. I sometimes think this, at any rate. I assume I don’t belong in the field or I’m embarrassed by my performance. The outdoor industry can be an intimidating place sometimes. It can feel like everyone has better gear, more experience, and more grit. But, in 2020 I failed joyfully at nearly everything I tried. And I stopped trying to qualify my failures with explanations. It made me giggle to realize how wildly unprepared I was to do a mountain bike race. I bonded happily with the climber bros who hauled me up the rock faces at Palisades. And, yikes, did I learn some lessons about the Centennial Trail for next time.


You don’t always have to do the biggest thing or be the best at a thing. Take lazy vacations that you don’t need to recuperate from when you get home. Float in rivers and drink cold beers if that’s your thing! Mess around and get last place in a bike race. Enjoy our stunning outdoor spaces in the way that best suits you, happily and responsibly. Always be safe, and do your due diligence. But, as we enter 2021 I encourage you to get out and fail joyfully. And fail outdoors!


Blog was written by Emily Larson (Jan 2021)

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