Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The power of choice

Last year over Memorial Day Weekend, Kathleen and I attempted to hike the Batona Trail here in New Jersey.  It's a 50 mile trail through the Pine Barrens, a forest encompassing roughly 1.1 million acres of pine trees, white sand, and cedar swamps.

Unfortunately, the trip did not go according to plan.  We gave ourselves three days to cover the flat trail, but on our second day out, Kathleen started to suffer from blisters and heat exhaustion.  Her pace slowed severely, and when she started to throw up, I decided to pull the ripcord.  We limped into Batsto Village, a leftover town from the 18th century that now shows tourists the history of the Pines, and parked ourselves at a picnic table.  Visions of 911 calls and frantic ambulance rides dissipated once she was in the shade with Gatorade and felt better.  But there was no way we could finish the hike.  We were effectively stranded 18 miles from the southern terminus.  It was now late afternoon, and I had to find a way to retrieve Kathleen's car from the trailhead and come back to pick her up.

I figured I had two choices:  I could either politely ask someone in the parking lot if they would mind giving us a ride, or I could run the final 18 miles myself.

I looked around the parking lot and visitor's center for a bit, but didn't see anyone who I thought would be willing to give us a ride.  I was nervous about approaching people looking like I did, having just come off the trail a sweaty, dirty mess.  After twenty minutes, I decided to run.  I had just stretched and mentally prepared myself for an impromptu long run and was on my way to buy another Gatorade to take with me when I ran into two guys we'd met on the trail the day before. After explaining the situation, I managed to cadge a ride from them.  In the end, the kindness of strangers saved the day, not my own two legs.

My point in relating this story is that running - and staying in shape - gives me choices.  It wouldn't have been easy, but I had the choice of running those final 18 miles instead of just begging strangers for rides.  When I visited the Grand Canyon in 2007, I had the choice of hiking down to the bottom instead of just standing and gawking from the rim.  When I wake up and go to work in the morning, I have the choice of riding my bike instead of driving my car.  When I watch my nephew grow up, I will have the choice of playing a game of tag with him on the playground, instead of just watching him from a bench.

It's an empowering notion to be confronted with choice; the feeling that with each choice added, I have a stronger control over my own destiny.  When I have more choices, when I am not limited to the choices of a lazy or sedentary person, it simply means there is more of life to experience. Keeping up with the running can be a pain sometimes, but when I take a moment to step back and realize the intrinsic benefits I gain from it, I remember how it is all worth it.

Running makes life better.


  1. Nice post. I'm completely shocked that you managed to find a "kind stranger" - two of them, in fact - in New Jersey. I guess they're all hiding in the woods.

  2. Hey, thanks. New Jersey isn't a bad place, "Jersey Shore" and "The Sopranos" notwithstanding.


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