“I guess I’m in a bit of a funk. I just need to get my trail-stoke back, you know?”
While dealing with a constant (and quite literal) pain in my side and juggling my life events last year, I often found myself halfheartedly reciting this line to myself and others.
Even as I declared my “funk” for all to hear, I was never sure it was the true expression of what was going on – I hardly even knew what I meant when I said it. I knew that I was uncomfortable, both physically and existentially, but I was certain that if I just put my nose to the grindstone and waded through all of the suck, I’d make it back to the days when every run was an adventure that my entire day was built around.
I didn’t feel burnt out or anything. I still got excited when I talked about the trail, when I spent time with other runners, and when I researched new gear. I still eagerly sought out new races to train for and hunted for new lines through the mountains to explore. The problem wasn’t being excited or feeling some sort of way about getting out the door. The problem was, instead, that I simply wasn’t getting out the door.
I was, in the currently accepted use of the word, stoked about trail running. Despite how excited I was, though, my flame was weak and dwindling.
The word stoked, as we use it so frequently in the outdoor/adventure world, is a sort of bastardization of the original meaning of the word. Originating in the mid 17th century, the word “stoke” is a back-formed verb of the noun “stoker”, defined as “one who tends a furnace on a steam engine”. To “stoke” something simply means to add fuel to or to encourage/incite.
Our expression is not far off from the original definition in that when a fire is stoked, it becomes lively and “excited”. So too do we get “excited” when we think about sweeping vistas and long days and countless miles in the backcountry. We get stoked about the possibility for awesome experiences. Rightly so – some of my best, most memorable life experiences have been during a foray into the forest or a expedition to an alpine ridge. It’s cause for excitement – it is why I do what I do; why I continue to participate in Type-2 (and sometimes Type-3) fun.
My problem instead lies with the idea that getting stoked is something that happens to us, instead of a way of intentionally preparing ourselves for the adventure to come, even in the daily grind and drudgery of training, we should be the stoker of our own engines.
You see, I want to be stoked, but I don’t want to have to sit around and wait to get stoked. I don’t want to wait for my trail-stoke to magically reappear.
Instead, I’d like to re-frame the way we view that word and all of its associated maxims. I’d like to return to the way it was originally expressed – to add fuel to and encourage.
I think that we should be building our stoke every day. Adding fuel to the fire that is our love for the outdoors to keep our embers glowing hot and our flames reaching for the sky, feeding on the fresh mountain air.
We can stoke our fire in a million different ways. Each person’s fire, their reason for training and adventuring, will burn for different reasons and as such, will need different kindling and tinder. Whatever fuel we need to keep our fire burning bright is the right one – one person might fuel their fire with a run of their favorite local trail loop, another might keep their fire alive with a Saturday morning group run or a long hike with the family or a mountain bike ride. I’ve found that cross training, meditation, and a tendency towards minimalism have added a new brightness to my fire.
Keeping the fire hot is the best way to keep moving and motivated; to get on the trails and experience the adventure that I live for. But it’s not something that I’m willing to just wait for; I refuse to wait for things to happen to me that will stoke my passion. Instead, it’s something that I need to work on daily, constantly adding fuel and building my own flame.
As I move through the coming year, I’m hoping to use this reinvented version of stoke, along with a mindful approach to my daily life, to move with both intention and purpose in the direction that I choose and to accomplish the things I want out of my training – to build up a bright burning fire for a life of meaningful adventures.