Jones: Don’t let social media set your outdoor goals

  • If you simply get out and paddle on a quiet lake this summer, your mind, body and soul will be better off for the experience. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

  • Walking a few miles on a gentle trail is within almost everyone’s abilities. Take pride in what you do. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 7/22/2019 8:27:31 PM

The internet in general, and social media in particular, can be viewed as a mixed blessing for outdoor enthusiasts.

On the plus side, it’s made it easier than ever to find information on any pastime you want to try. If you want to hike or bike a particular trail or paddle a stretch of river, lakeshore or coastline, chances are you can see photos and read about someone else’s experience on the same trek. If you want to explore something new – an aerial adventure, disc golf, whitewater rafting, downhill mountainbiking, etc. – there’s an almost infinite amount of information available to help you know what to expect.

Of course not all the information you find is accurate. And too much of it isn’t relevant to ordinary people who are just out to get some fresh air and exercise, and have a good time doing it.

There’s a tendency in outdoor sports these days to push toward the extreme side of things, document it, and place it on social media for all the world to see. Maybe it’s unintended, but it often comes across as making heroes out of the people who do it, implying that the rest of us can’t measure up to the same standards. I call some of this stuff “outdoor porn.” Much of what you see, you wouldn’t want to do even if you were physically capable of doing it.

Among thousands of examples you can find if you search for 5 minutes less, I offer this snippet from a 2017 story in Runner’s World magazine titled “Meet the Man Who Just Destroyed The Appalachian Trail Speed Record.”

“This indefatigable drive for ‘more’ explains how McConaughy, known on the trail as “Stringbean,” averaged 48 miles a day for six and a half weeks straight to finish the 2,189-mile AT in the fastest known time ever recorded: 45 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes. He tracked his effort via GPS, sharing regular updates on Instagram (@thestring.bean), and his time has been verified by the Fastest Known Time board member Peter Bakwin. (There is no official sanctioning body for AT records.)”

I’m sorry, but just finishing the entire AT is a lofty goal for most of us. Most through hikers take about six months, not six weeks, to accomplish it. Some people take decades to do it in sections and it’s still a major accomplishment. For some people, walking a one mile section is a serious challenge. They also deserve accolades.

I’m honestly not sure we do anyone any good by even acknowledging “speed hiking” records, let alone celebrating them. If even one person decides not to go hiking because they feel they can’t measure up, then I see that as a tragedy.

I feel the same way about most races. I know people who brag about the pain they endure in bike or foot races that go on for hours or days over hundreds of miles. But those folks are really doing what we all do – competing against ourselves and our own limitations. It’s probably wonderful that they can do such things, but pardon me if I refuse to measure my own achievements by those standards. I prefer to do the best I can, getting a little better each time, and quietly enjoy the experience.

Another example: At one time, doing the “Presidential Traverse” (23 miles, gaining and losing about 9,000 feet of vertical) across the high White Mountains in New Hampshire was considered a lofty goal if you did it over several days. Now, it seems, unless you do it in a single day, it doesn’t count and, unless you do it in less that eight hours, it doesn’t even deserve noting. Yes, there’s a “Fastest Known Time,” but I’m not going to bother to tell you what it is since it has no bearing on anyone else’s accomplishment. My feeling is if you do it at all, you deserve a rousing cheer.

Personally, I’d like to see people quietly celebrate the fact that they got out and did something under their own power. Anything, whether it’s hiking or biking a trail, climbing a small hill (you don’t have to walk 2000 miles or climb all 48 4,000-footers), paddling a canoe or kayak or whatever it is you want to do. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Taking the heat off

We’ve reached that time of year when temperatures pretty regularly climb above 90 and the humidity levels skyrocket into the soupy range. Just about every news outlet will warn you to stay indoors, making it sound like you are going to die instantly if you step outside an air-conditioned space.

Sure, you need to be a little careful, but even I – no lover of heat and humidity – know that we can still have fun outdoors in the summer. My advice: Go out early or late in the day, pace yourself, wear sun-protective clothing and drink lots and lots of water. That’s it, just water. Save the sugary drinks and alcohol until after the sun goes down. If your urine isn’t “clear and copious,” your are flirting with dehydration and its attendant problems.

Use some common sense and have fun out there. The days are already getting shorter and cool weather will be here before you know it.

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel and can be reached at

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