It’s Monday. You know how it goes. It starts with the alarm. If you don’t walk to a bus stop, or ride your bike to the office, or go to the gym first thing, then you get in a car, drive to work, sit in a chair, and then get back in a car, drive home and wait to do that again next day. Right? Relative to what our bodies (and minds) are made to do and capable of, we barely use them at all in some respects. By “we” I mean the general urban population, not Olympians, not construction workers.
If you had a reaction to that statement, if you’re thinking, “Buddy, I go to the gym, I take the stairs, I walk fifty minutes cumulatively every day, just like the experts say I should.” That’s great. I do, too. Trust me, this is not a holier-than-thou piece. My point is, we still don’t honour the awesome machines our bodies are with these bare minimum efforts. When you really use your body, you will know why you eat, why you sleep, why you push yourself.
If we can compare the way we use our bodies to driving a Ferrari, it would be like using only first gear for most of the day, with the odd jump to second. So much potential is wasted and the real price we pay, aside from health issues, is never really getting to know how high-tech the flesh and blood world is. I think our headphones, our computers, our space shuttles and space stations exhibit nothing near the complexity of even one square centimeter of any part of our bodies.
This is what I’ve learned about my body thanks to canoe camping. You’ll note these are all seemingly very apparent statements. I’m not mentioning these things because I think we don’t know them. We know them as facts we hear on the news, or recommendations we read about in fitness magazines. We don’t KNOW them as the exhilarating ride that feels like 12 high-compression pistons screaming at an 8000 RPM red line in 6th gear…and you don’t need a six-pack to do it.
Our bodies are capable of sustained, high-output work.
How long we sustain and what “high-output” equals is different for everyone. Maybe you’ll hate every second on the way to your limit, but when you’re done, not only will you know something about your physical and mental endurance, you’ll be rewarded in many ways:
- You’ll feel tired, spent, and wasted, but calm and content
- You’ll feel motivated to push your limits
- You’ll feel a sense of achievement that bolsters your confidence in general, because despite your “I can’t do this anymore” mantra, you did it. (What a lesson to take with you!)
- You’ll be stronger, and not just physically
Bodies burn fuel and heat up, just like engines do. They take in water, change its composition and use it cool us down.
Well, duh, right? I mean we all know that, but to experience your body begging for calories, not because you have a craving, not from a specific food, but because your body NEEDS it. The calories are pre-spent! When you’re paddling and portaging for hours, you eat constantly. That’s what GORP is for. Imagine looking for calorie-dense foods instead of avoiding them…and I have still lost up to 7 pounds on a trip.
If our bodies are not ready to perform at the levels we push them to, they adapt…and they do it quickly.
We do a bit of training before a trip, but it’s never enough. The morning after your first day of travel, you will hurt. The bones on your shoulders will feel bruised from carrying a canoe from one lake to the next over hills. Here are a couple of videos taken at the beginning and end of a portage around some rocks on the Petawawa River in Algonquin, to give you a sense (my distance references are in metres):
Your back will protest. Your arms will go on strike. Nonetheless, you wake up in the morning and you do it all again and by the third day, you’re tossing canoes and 50 kilogram back packs around like nothing.
I’m not saying we’re all athletes. That’s not the point. It’s about pushing your limits and, while you might think all of this was about our physical limits or even camping for that matter, you can apply all of this very broadly to life situations.
Someone Greek said, “Know thyself”. I don’t think we can make personal change without knowing our capacities and limitations.