Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A life of sport vs. the sport of life

As money gets tighter for more and more people -- as more and more people keep making more and more and more people -- consumer civilization will not last much longer. There's no way a bloated population can find enough things to do that earn enough money to buy enough things so that the majority of them can enjoy the kind of lifestyle that leads to obesity and the diseases of idleness.

A society where exertion is optional develops sports as ways to entice some people to get out of their recliners for a while and build up a healthy sweat. Recreational athletes go for personal records and measure themselves against their fellow competitors. Some of them spend more money than I make in a year on their gear and trips and entry fees.

Sport is seductive. It is such an accepted element of civilized life that one can dip into it without questioning its value. Obviously, exercise is good. Pick an activity or a set of activities, buy the gear and perform the requisite exercises. As an added bonus, some activities seem to have less environmental impact than others.

Humans seem to decide a lot of things on the basis of lesser harm rather than greater good. "Could be worse! I could drive a bigger SUV." "Could be worse. I could be towing a trailer full of ATVs instead of a trailer full of mountain bikes." All true as far as it goes, but it just delays the reckoning. It does not avoid it.

The mobility afforded by the automobile opened up the the countryside to travelers like nothing before. It became so normal that no one could imagine life any other way. The same mobility that allows someone to drive a 2000-pound tank half a mile to a grocery store for a quart of milk and a loaf of bread also opens up the 100-mile super commute from a distant suburb to a commercial center. But this normalization of speed and cruising radius makes people forget how to live where they live.

I admit I have been part of the problem. Even though my self-propelled recreational activities have all been part of my working life, only a few of them have practical applications. Bicycling and walking head the list. Then, because of my rural environment and seasonal snow cover, cross-country skis figure in the mix because I use them to gather useful items from the winter forest. Take away the snow, I walk. And I still feel it's acceptable to propel yourself on land or water just to groove on the surroundings. No motor, a natural pace. Sometimes these jaunts can have an added purpose, like trying to find a bobcat den or a heron rookery as part of a wildlife survey.

Over the years in the gear business I have made money on peak baggers and braggarts and high-strung athletes whose personal demons prod them to set their bodies on fire with fatigue, over and over in search of some sort of purification. They could change their minds and go outside at a more measured pace and still benefit from my services. I don't need anyone to be a tech-worshipping gear addict. And the tightly-wound types who need constant validation move on sooner or later because I have trouble keeping up the pace, shoveling emotional coal under their never-resting boiler.

Competitive athletes live from finite event to finite event. Competition is an arms race, requiring constant investment. It's a luxury. The sport of life, on the other hand, requires far less investment in equipment and you're on the course all the time. The entry fee is already covered. You're here. It's your choice how much you slave away to participate in the Machine Age. Some is good. Too much will definitely take you down.

1 comment:

CautiouslyAudacious said...

Ha! Nice commentary. I fall somewhere in between. I do have issues that I handle through sport but I find it suits me better than alcohol. While I do pay for entry fees I have had the same triathlon bike for 15 years and it has been through many accidents and races with me I rarely spend much on equipment and "fuel" my commuter bike admittedly has become a little dusty since my son was born but I won't give up. As for life I hope my son takes up this mentality you are describing and we spend most of his waking time outdoors playing, walking, exploring and watching. Don't even get me started on the "at least I don't" I completely agree with you!