Why do we go to extremes, push the limits, explore the unknown?
Some of us seem hard-wired to test the limits of our risk-taking ability and endurance, while others push the boundaries in other ways, such as facing up to challenging phobias like public speaking. Whichever way this desire to experience life manifests, we can be sure that all of us have a seed of adventure nestling within us.
Our lives are frantic with attention grabbing stimuli, and coupled with the everyday practical demands, we are left swamped at the end of the day and just want to collapse on the couch. But at some point, we get fed up. We are not satisfied. We get bored. And so we respond to the call for something more.
Is this search for the “More” part of our human DNA? If we weren’t genetically made to discover new things and “just try and see”, would we still be hunter-gatherers living in caves? The story of humankind is a story of pioneering, whether this be out of necessity such as looking for food, or just out of a pure sense of curiosity.
Nowadays, most of us don’t have the opportunity to push through a scientific discovery or find a lost land, but we still have a primal urge to break through to the unknown. In recent times, many people are using endurance sports like mountain biking and ultra trail running as an outlet or a way to test their potential.
The top-end endurance freaks run for ridiculous lengths, race up mountains or suffer through extreme weather conditions – voluntarily! Is this a personality trait of just the so-called adrenaline junkies? On the contrary, it seems we can all face obstacles which at one point seemed impossible to overcome. Take, for example, how popular marathons have become. People who couldn’t even walk across the carpark without panting are now finishing 42,2km. Admittedly, they may do it in six hours, but they are still doing it.
Perhaps this quest for adventure is actually a deeper search for meaning. We want there to be a reason for our lives, and if the mundane doesn’t satisfy, maybe an extreme challenge will. It taps into the roots of human courage which we see in wartime or large-scale disasters and it echoes the grand themes of triumph, sacrifice, overcoming fear and boldness.
Pushing ourselves to the limit also helps some to overcome addictions or traumas. The adrenaline and endorphins associated with risk become like a fix. Our brains crave it. We feel good doing it. These moments of pushing ourselves help us to forget, even for a moment, the chaos that awaits us in our “normal” lives.
Endurance sport can become more than just a habit: it becomes an identity: “I am an ultra runner.” “I am a mountain biker”. We gain self-respect and admiration from others by achieving these goals through pain, sacrifice and pure grit. Beyond giving us an identity as an individual, we gain membership to a community. Mountain biking or ultra-running may look like individual sports, but you actually can’t tackle such a huge task on your own – you need to become part of something bigger than yourself. A perfect example of this is the aptly named Comrades Marathon where you get the feeling as a runner that you are all in this together and the runners really do help each other make the distance.
For those not wanting to blast the limits, experiencing something like a mountain bike tour in a new country or area is adventure enough. Mountain biking is both an extreme sport like in the Cape Epic-type races, and a family holiday option in places like the Western Cape’s Overberg/Hermanus region where many new MTB tours and trails are springing up.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a pioneer within, even if it is dormant at the moment. Embracing a new challenge may be just the thing to shake life into your world.