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C. Rusty Lokal

Gymnification of the outdoors. 

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

It’s an old and wonderful thought experiment: can something exist without being perceived by consciousness? But today there is a new, even more perplexing metaphysical question popping up on Bozeman’s mountain trails:

If a gal runs to the top of a mountain, but there is no Fitbit recording her heartrate, is her heart really pounding? Does the mountain matter? Is she really alive at all?

To pose another important question, and at the risk of sounding crusty: Have we really reached a point at which we are unable to tell when we’re working hard? And more philosophically, have mountains become just another piece of gym equipment?

I’m confident that when my heart is thumping in my chest, and I’m heaving for oxygen, and sweat is running from my body, that I’m working. Calories are burning. Muscles are building. Neurons are firing. Good things all. Generally, however, I’m in the mountains for more than fitness reasons. How does a heartrate monitor, pace-tracker, or lap-counter quantify the caloric value of a sunrise or sunset, a wild-animal encounter, or the sound of thunder on the horizon? What if I climb a mountain, and at the top my Lifestyle Improvement Device tells me I didn’t accomplish a whole lot? “Only 750 calories burned,” it might say. “Max heartrate of 120 BPM—try harder.” Is maintaining our target heartrate the only purpose of climbing a mountain? Is our primary reward the external validation of hitting a fitness threshold?

I understand how tracking one’s heartrate might be important for professional mountain runner Killian Jornet, who is by all outward appearances and for all practical purposes a bionic superhuman bred, trained, and paid specifically to resemble a sprinting snow leopard. But let’s be honest here. I’m not Killian. You’re not Killian. There is no one in Montana like Killian, because if there were, we’d be consuming his or her awesomeness in slick YouTube ads for Fitbit watches.

No, you’re Larry, who humps up the M trail three or four days a week (which is awesome), likes birds, and sometimes accidentally eats an entire sleeve of Oreos, and then blames the kids. And that’s okay. You’re doing great. Do you really need to compulsively check your Fitbit like it might contain the secret codes to unlocking your superpower? Your superpower, Larry, is huffing Oreos and still being able trail-run regularly, at a pretty decent clip. Go with it. And stop to watch the birds sometimes—it’s nice, despite what your device might say about your diminishing average beats per minute. But hey, that’s just my take on the subject. I’ll leave you with one more metaphysical query:

If the gym is the gym, and the mountains are the gym too, then what the heck are we training for?

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