Warm beams of sunlight warm your tent, begging you to brave the cold morning air to make coffee. Reluctantly you unzip the tent, careful not to disturb the thin layer of dew that accumulated while you we’re sleeping. Standing now, the morning has officially started and you root through gear bags trying to find the press and stove. As the first sips of coffee pass over your lips, your mind turns towards the reasons you’re here; __________________.
Everyone who has an affinity for the outdoors has probably had a morning like this, the only difference being what activity you choose to fill-in the “blank”.
We are the outdoor community. Webster defines community as, “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.” What is the common interest? What is it that, like a forest of Aspen Trees, connects us all at our roots. With so may people doing so many different activities; climbing, kayaking, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, adventure racing, road cycling, trail running, fly fishing, stand-up paddling, kite boarding, surfing: the list goes on and on. What is the one thing that we all have in common? Some will quickly “raise a hand” and answer: “it’s our love for the outdoors, our appreciation for wild places, and our love of nature!” If you answered this way, you’re on the right track, but I would argue that this love and appreciation is a by-product of spending time outside, not the reason to be outside. I would argue that the “one thing” is simpler than that. It’s the “stoke.”
Urbandictionary.com defines stoke as: “used to describe something that is really cool or amazing, taken from the term stoked which means looking forward to”, and also as, “To interact with someone in a verbal or physical manner so as to inflame their carnal senses and feed their passion.” How can something as undefinable as “stoke” be the one thing that the outdoor community has in common that actually allows us to be defined as a community? Stoke goes beyond passion. Passion can ebb and flow, but stoke influences us to our very core and can even change our lives.
How do you define something like stoke. For climbers, it’s that feeling you get when you finally top out on a route you’ve been struggling with for weeks. For kayakers, it could be the feeling of being part of a wild river cutting its way to the sea. For a fly fisherman: finally catching that 20″ trout on a size 20 hook. For mountain bikers, that perfect flowing section of single track. What I’m getting at is that regardless of how the stoke manifests itself, it’s the same. It’s the common ground. It’s what allows strangers, in spite of race, religion, political affiliation, or background to come together around a campfire and share stories, misadventures, songs, food, and strong drink.
I’ve seen, first hand, how powerful this phenomena can be.
If you we’re to meet her, you would probably see on the surface a woman in her late 50s/early 60s, with arthritis and bad knees who drives a minivan. What you wouldn’t know about her is that she is one of the most hardcore whitewater kayakers I know. She isn’t hardcore because she runs the hardest whitewater, but rather because she is the most determined, fearless, and stoked paddler I know. She started as a recreational kayaker, but somewhere along the way decided to give whitewater a try. This is where the stoke took hold. It took her a little longer than average to learn how to roll. A skill any boater will tell you is essential. Actually it took her about a year, but she was persistent, dedicated, and tenacious. On a fairly recent boating trip, down a local class III run, she flipped and took pretty big hit to the face. Did that stop her? Nope. I’ve seen passionate people quit paddling over less. What sustained her? The stoke.
He had driven over 3 hours, by himself, to a climbing and hiking festival where he wouldn’t know anyone to spend a weekend camping in, what most people would consider, a sub par tent. Add on top of that tornado warnings, goat poop, massive rainfall, and a lot of cheap whiskey and you have the perfect situation to turn most anyone off from being a part of the outdoor community. A slow start to the morning for everyone lead to a small group of people who didn’t know each other heading out for a mellow morning climbing session. There a very few times when you get to see it. When you get to be there for the moment when it takes hold. After topping out for the first time on a 5.7+, 45 foot perfect sandstone crag, he was hooked on climbing. Something that he’d only done a few times in a gym before and never outside on “real” rock. What is it that can cause someone to just drive 3 hours on a whim and trust people he’d just met? You got it! The stoke.
As I said before, it’s a powerful phenomena that can change the way we interact, behave, vote, think, and buy. It can wholly change a person. It can take someone with no direction, someone struggling with addiction, or even just your average joe and provide them with something that to others seems trivial. It can change the way you dream and what you dream about. It can give you the courage and the tools to realize those dreams. We’ve all experienced it on some level or seen it in others. It’s what drives us and motivates us. And despite the activity you choose to experience it, it is the one thing that we, as the outdoor community, have in common. Share it!
Jeremy Mackey, manager of Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters in Hot Springs is no stranger to the stoke. He enjoys whitewater kayaking, sailing, mountain and road cycling, rock climbing, backpacking, trail running, and fly fishing. Having been involved in the outdoors and the outdoor industry for 15 years, he’s been fortunate to both experience and share his stoke for the outdoors.