A Moveable Party
(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)My friend Jeff sent me a Facebook message: “Want to ride mountain bikes Tuesday morning?”I met him at Woody’s bike shop and we headed out, first on the Lake Dimmick trail and then around the St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School loop.On the way, we chatted about his new Subaru, my old Subaru, how many miles we rode last year, and how many miles we hoped to ride this year. I mentioned a couple of college-student runners that I often saw on the trails out Brakefield Road, and he told me what great people they were, how dedicated to being strong runners.As we discussed the trail race I had run in back in late November, I mentioned that one of the main things I enjoyed about the event was the people, the vibe. It seems that competitions, whatever the sport, bring together an inspired, positive, healthy group of people. Jeff agreed with me, saying that he also like being around those types of people. (For the record, Jeff not long ago competed in the Leadville 100 — one of the hardest mountain-bike races in the country, held in the Colorado Rockies.)It wasn’t until later on that I realized that what the two of us were doing was a similar kind of thing. You don’t have to go to a race or other organized event to be around members of your tribe. You can just go on a bike ride, or run, or hike with someone. We are social creatures, after all, whatever activities we happen to be doing.On road-bike rides, if there are five or six or ten people, what happens is that you ride along, usually two abreast when there’s no traffic. You’ll chat for a while with the person next to you, until something in the ride messes with the lineup, like a stop sign or a hill climb, and you’re not next to that person any more.Then you find yourself riding next to someone else. You now can chat with them. How’s the family? Are you still working at…I heard you went to North Carolina recently. In that way, if you want to, you can spend conversational time with everyone in the group, and all the while you’re riding your bike.It’s like a cocktail party, except a hundred times better.Being outside alone can be very beneficial. You can sort out looming problems, be alone with your thoughts, or just have mindless time in nature, a sort of moving meditation.But getting out there with other people is another kind of gift. The combination of doing something you really, really enjoy, while sharing the time with humans who are there because they really, really enjoy it too, is optimal for producing happiness. In our increasingly fragmented world, when conversation without cell phones or agendas happens too seldom, a mere walk in the woods with someone else can be a small miracle, a chance for real connection that makes our lives deeper, richer, and more fulfilling.