at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Tag: exploratory lifestyle

Spring Run, Ramps

Not FKT-up Trails, but Fully Known Terrains

FKT, “fastest known times,” may be the oldest running idea that no one has ever heard of.

The challenge of being faster than someone, or preferably everyone, else has surely been around for long, and if it wasn’t in head-to-head competition, it was in how long it took someone to cover the distance from one point to another.

Having moved online, info-wise, the notion got new feet.

Peter Bakwin started his list of FKTs a decade ago; FKTs were discussed years ago; and with Kilian Jornet’s “Summits of My Life” and other people’s mountain speed ascents – not to mention the various thru-hike records – they have come further into the spotlight.

As much as one can talk of a spotlight when it comes to an activity, FKT, that is a small part of an overarching activity, thru-hiking or ultra-distance running, that is not exactly receiving the most attention. (How many hikers, outside of Cheryl Strayed or her movie-adaptation version, let alone ultramarathoners, can the average person name?)

Still, the idea is simple enough: pick a trail or a mountain ascent (and descent) and try to finish it in a record time.

So far, so good – but in a sports practice that is, at heart, a very individual and intimate pursuit – (mountain) trail running – this idea leads things to unfortunate, if logical, conclusions:

When everything is always just about extremes, you always need more extreme feats. And you need simple measures by which to present them, or it wouldn’t all fit into a single tweet or a share-able headline.

“New Record”

So, if you want to get back to a certain individuality in your pursuit, and therefore away from ultramarathon races (or if you have won only too many of them…), this is a way to do so while still achieving something that can be easily measured and pointed to, and is an easily visible and shareable feat.

If you are a runner who is as much at the top of his game as Kilian Jornet (and he’s so at the top, he makes it all look like a game), this goes to such an extreme that it makes for the “FKT-up” headline I am riffing on; Christopher McDougall  used this phrase in Outside Magazine/Online to point out just how crazy some of it all was… and Jornet is aiming to even speed-ascend (and descend, for good measure) Mount Everest.

It is all very much in the spirit of extremization.

It is all about doing things and saying things in such a way as to bring them to extremes which make for messages that quickly and easily appeal to emotions. Hence, they can be shared in headlines and tweets and will be liked and shared a lot, making for visibility and popularity.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure Kilian isn’t very much (which is to say: not at all) motivated to do this for the “likes” – and even if you should be, it may not be the worst thing to happen by far, if it is motivation to learn and grow.

Like a Broken Record

“Extremized” activities like that, however, do often make for superficiality.

The way one hears about them and the people that perform them, it is only that one feat that counts, not the path that led there.

The extraordinary person is held up as hero-like, but is at a level which hardly anyone could achieve, which seems mainly based on innate talent, and which is, therefore, not necessarily all that motivating.

The time counts, and only the fastest time, everything else is just preparation that doesn’t matter – except it’s in the preparation, in the moving and the discovery that goes with it, that the most valuable of experiences lie.

When the speed, the time, is presented as the important thing – or maybe even just, as some would claim, not as the important thing, truly, but just the thing to do the marketing with – we are giving in to the extremization. We feed a machine of shallow attention that demands instant gratification and betray what we go out onto trails to discover.

Trails of Learning

Spring Run, Ramps

Run to fully know, and you may come home with part of lunch. Here, some of the first wild leeks (ramps) of spring 2015

The simple pleasure of motion, and motion that leads to discovery.

A pursuit that is certainly harder than simply lounging in front of the TV and waiting for great views to be brought to one’s eyes, but that is all the more worthwhile for it.

A preparation for better fitness that is also a pleasurable pastime.

A foundation for everyday heroism.

And a way of learning about a place.

This last bit, in particular, is the one I want to call for.

There is so much to learn about and discover wherever you are, and in combining physical pursuits – to range across an area – and psychological ones – to discover and learn – we are doing what humans (like many, if not most animals) have always done: Go out and “learn our place,” from the lay of the land to the resources available, from dangerous spots to beautiful sights.

Sure, the internet world will not praise you the highest for the ordinary things you’ll see and learn. But in seeing and learning, you can make yourself at home in the places you live, make yourself more fit, knowledgeable, and useful, and get to really living there, intimately, fully knowing the terrain, wherever it is that you are.

And that is where life really lies and is lived.


If it is adventure you seek, it is all there to be found… in the attitude and the doing.
(And not just in my Salzkammergut-inspired exemplary, and hopefully a little inspirational, ways ;) )

There is so amazingly much talk about the importance of awareness and attitude for happiness, so much search for fun and excitement in a humdrum existence, and so many a promise of everything that one product or another, from the latest electronic gadget to the next great vacation package, would supposedly offer, it seems it all ought to be understood and utilized. It isn’t.

If it is adventure you seek, at least you may be a step ahead of those still caught up in seeking nothing but comfort(s), but we still tend to get misled by the tyranny of the extraordinary where anything worthy of being called adventure has to be something extreme and outstanding. No induction into National Geographic’s Explorers Hall of Fame, no dice.

As much as we say that life’s about the living, hear that attitude is everything, we let ourselves get directed not by how we live and why, but by outside perceptions.

But, there is an element of positive thinking, of how a positive attitude can matter to your life, indeed: If you go into it seeing it as an adventure, chances are that you can make it so. Of course, it’s still easier when what you do is something special, not overly ordinary, let alone drudgery forced on you. And yet.

New Year’s Eve, I went to bed before midnight, putting my early-bird habit over celebrations.
New Year’s Day, I got up early, had the usual morning matcha and got to work on my writing.

I had thought about going up a mountain to catch the sunrise there, but my wife and I decided it would be much nicer to be there when she wakes up in the new year. So, stay I did, prepared her breakfast – then set out for a mountain tour in daylight. Good compromise, balancing family life, security, and the adventures of the ordinary and the unusual. With quite the view:

01012014 Traunstein Panorama

Getting up being thankful to have another day and approaching the day wondering what adventure it will bring – or rather, what adventure can be brought into it – can very much help be more active and thus find more that is of interest. Of course, we all get used to what is normal, fall into habits of what we always do and stop seeing what we always see.

There’s something to be said for that.

Not having to think about where you put the keys, what you’re going to wear (let alone, if there’ll be anything clean left or if doing the laundry was on the list but not a point that got done), and even what to do with your time and when, can be immensely helpful. It can even free up the mental capacity (and time) to focus on the adventurous.

Much of the recent adventure was of the mind, in the passive form of watching Sherlock, and in the active form of reading about different issues of interest. Mainly, in real books, for they provide the deep immersion that helps be somewhere and become someone else.

Adventure is the other side, and of course it’s easier with a change of circumstances. Travel somewhere far-enough away and different enough, and it will be easy to get out of routine habits, especially of seeing. Foreign experiences are called eye-opening for a reason.

Travel isn’t the panacea it’s often cracked up to be, though. We often just bring our (mis)conceptions of how “they” are and of what it is that we want to see and do – and why – along. It can be just as easy (or hard) to open one’s eyes to the new and exciting somewhere else as to the unseen and interesting where you are supposedly at home.

All it takes is a conscious break in routine, an attitude shift towards a desire to see and experience.

Just, take a different path than usual.
Stop and look up where you’d normally hunker down and rush through.
Set out on a photo safari.
Check out event listings in your area, pick something you wouldn’t normally go to, and imagine yourself going there to explore.

Starting the new year, even – or especially? – as the weather was not the best, I went out on January 5 to experience another of the traditions in the Alpine region where I spend time (not least, for the mountain running) whenever I can, the Salzkammergut: the Glöcklerlauf (“bell-ringers run,” if you must have a translation).

Which is this…

Get some new recipe or some new ingredient and try it out. (This example points to perhaps the craziest thing we’re doing, getting ourselves so used to certain ways of eating, so set in our ways – and nowadays, so sold to the industrial machine – we don’t even remember the foodways and diversity that used to exist and has usually left its traces, we don’t even want to try out anything new, and we overlook many pleasures and health-promoting possibilities in the process.)

Recently, I expanded my baking skills to include Ischler Törtchen. Okay, not the healthiest, but among the cookies they would be classified as, they are veritable cakes. Especially made this way…


And, having mentioned the running: This has recently become (even) less a matter of regular endurance training than one of adventuring, too. Going out in the mountains, picking different paths over my favorite one among them.

Again, it’s easier in one place than another, in the less rather than more usual. 45 minutes up a mountain still mean that you got up a mountain; 45 minutes in the usual flat environs mean nothing but having gone out for only 45 minutes. It’s harder to create excitement for the latter – and then again, shaping attitudes to work more satisfyingly, opening eyes and minds to the changes that always happen, learning to get excited about things, the simple ones and the special, seeing them as exciting because they are and because they are made to be… That’s living.

Active, adventurous, exploratory living.

Foggy Days. And Fearful Minds?

It’s been a view for the imagination…

Foggy View

Easy, even in a well-lit and heated apartment, to imagine why and how this weak and, consequently, fearful primate we are would huddle around a fireplace, enjoy the company of others, and let the blankness and swirling of the cold fog become the canvas on which stories of just what may be lurking out there are told.

There be monsters.

You have to venture out into the damp cold, you better not go far. Wild animals may threaten you. Spirits may roam. Go far, and you may lose your path and never find back. Have the trail disappear beneath your feet, the flat land look all the same everywhere, the forest lure you into its depth and swallow you up.

Sit in the comfortable warmth and safe walls, though, and the imagined danger makes for a sensual tickling down your spine, speaking to atavistic impulses while the higher level of consciousness tells you it’s all right, you’re safe. Benign masochism, excitingly safe thrills.

We still seem to be acting like that, and have got even better at making ourselves comfortable, making things convenient for us, and letting us be entertained by stories that get ever more elaborate to hide how empty they are.

Learn more, though, develop skills, and the exploration out into the fog is just the thing to still give you a chill, all the while knowing that you will handle it well.

It’s the very balance we’re always maneuvering around, between comfort that is good to have in order to recover and learn in it, and comfort that numbs and weakens us. Fear that is a sign of actual danger we should heed, and fear that is numbing and maybe just wrong. Stories of strangers and the strange that are warnings with purpose, and stranger danger that just isn’t true and holds us back from learning and creating the adventure we seek.

In balance, dynamic and sensible, it’s the darkness that makes the light all the nicer, the fog that hides and makes the uncovered all the clearer…

Why We Explore…

After “The Brilliant Moment” and “Move,” yet another great – and again, corporate ad – video too good and inspirational not to share it here…

Indeed, we seem made to explore. And exploring is what made us.

Then, we aspire to live better – and end up going shopping, forgetting that buying is not being.

In the forest

Early Spring’s Micro-Exploration

10 days to the 100 Miles of Istria.

Running Vignette:
Dad just had a look at the GPS track of it and then told me, “If we were in Umag [the start] and your mum said we should drive to the other side of Istria [the finish], I’d tell her, No, I don’t want to, it’s too far for a day’s drive…

I’ll have to say, my legs hurt just from watching the same. Then again, I just went out for a leisurely long-ish training run of half-marathon distance. March had ended, Easter Sunday had come, with stormy winds and snowfall, but this 1st of April was close to balmy and sunny – and as much as I promote taking things as they come, for the challenge and their reality, nicer conditions beckon more.

Interesting conditions they were.

Railway crossing, snow in the "hills"

Railway crossing, snow in the “hills”

We’ve had the coldest March in a long time, with just one warm spell that gave all the early spring bloomers the signal to get their buds ready… and then promptly turned cold again. I had collected ramsons last time I ran here, but they were almost more hidden this time. In the sunlight, especially, the snow has been melting rapidly and the ground turned mud, but between the trees, on the less-exposed sides, there is still a (refreshed) layer of snow, and in the shadows, the puddles held a layer of ice…

In the forest

In the forest

Snowy trails - and trees

Snowy trails – and trees

In other parts, not so much...

In other parts, not so much…

And so I went, over snow and through slush, between the trees and over the hills. In the “Leitha mountains” (Leithagebirge) again, which has always fascinated me somewhat because it is but hills, not the mountains the name suggests. Sitting at the very edge of the Pannonian plains, next to the Neusiedler See lake, though, they do loom up a little and hold a slight promise of the Alps to come. On clear days, the Schneeberg (“snow mountain”) is also visible in the further distance (and as a friend pointed out, a hiking path of some 120 km from just into Hungary to that area has recently been established, the Alpannonia…)

Vineyard panorama from the edge of the Leitha mountains

Vineyard panorama from the edge of the Leitha mountains


Other vineyard (and Neusiedler See) impression

Other vineyard (and Neusiedler See) impression

The view from above isn’t too bad; and the trail up today felt like being in the mountains, what with the snow and sun and rocks…

Trail up Zeiselberg

Trail up Zeiselberg


and the view from the Zeiselberg towards the Northeast (where I came from)

and the view from the Zeiselberg towards the Northeast (where I came from)

… and there were messengers of spring to discover, too. As long as the focus doesn’t all go inward, to only the running, but also to a sense of exploration and discovery, if in the cracks and on the side of the road.




No "Enter the Dragon"...

No “Enter the Dragon”…

... but a "follow the rabbit"

… but a “follow the rabbit”

Hope you had a nice Easter, too! ;)

See you on here, or out there…

Suunto Ambit

The Ambit of an Exploratory Lifestyle

“I’m not impressed.”

It is easily the ugliest modern attitude that gets expressed by this phrase. As an attempt at coolness and aloofness that does not result in any of the freedom that a certain distance from the humdrum world could provide, it is nothing but proving that you are not really engaged in this world, at home.

Life, and especially in these times, is amazing.

We have modern technology making things possible that people have, for the longest time, hardly even dreamed about. We still have so much diversity on this planet, both natural and cultural. We can do so many things, learn about so much, and so easily.

But then, that may be just the problem.

Read More

The Exploratory Lifestyle – Setting Out to Become at Home

Joseph Rock on Horse, in YunnanThe age of adventure, the era of explorers – it all seems a thing of the past.

Now, the best you can do is action sports and extreme travel – but there’s a big difference: The earlier explorers didn’t quite know what they were getting themselves into, and went to the white spots on the maps not just for the heck of it, but also to increase knowledge.
Or at least, that’s what also happened and was the reason given to their supporters…

These times seem far gone.

Read More

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén