By Adrian Howell
When I was a child, getting outside and exploring in nature was an integral part of who I was. Whether it was climbing trees or jumping over streams, making houses for snails or creating “potions” from flowers and strange plants, it felt like the outdoors was the place where I really came alive.
Somewhere along the way however, things became slightly sidetracked. Like most kids nowadays, I began to gravitate towards video games and late nights. As the years progressed, video games were replaced with booze and the late nights became even later. Eventually, it felt like I had lost touch with an essential aspect of who I was. It felt like I had fallen asleep, and a chronic feeling of heaviness and discontentedness had replaced the sense of awe and wonder that I once felt.
These negative feelings would soon begin to manifest themselves as a clinical depression and various anxiety disorders. The voice of the playful inner child had been drowned out by the noise of the world. It felt like all of the curiosity had drained from my life, and had instead been replaced by a dull ache — indicative that something was wrong, although I wasn’t entirely sure what it was.
One day I decided to disregard my fears and ride my bike into the forest, in an attempt to burn off the tension that I was carrying internally. That was one of my first adult experiences of flow. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, the noise of my mind had subsided. My perception was filled with the vibrant colours of the trees, and the symphonies of the birds flying above me. I felt a sense of pure elation and aliveness which reminded me of what I had forgotten. It had reminded me of the inherent value of moving within nature, of disconnecting from the modern world and reconnecting with the voice of the inner child.
This experience would lay the foundations for what was to come. A year later, I bought my first road bike. I started to spend more and more time outside. Spending hours traversing the countryside — over hills, through forests, past rivers. Clocking hundreds of miles per month. This newfound passion escalated, leading into 10,000 miles ridden in a single year. The flames of my childhood had been reignited, and I was reminded of the inherent value that only being outside can bring.
The snowball effect began to gain further momentum. My rediscovered joy of exploring in nature then led me to many different countries and landscapes — the rolling hills and unpredictable weather of Wales, the panoramic mountain passes of Austria, the volcanic paradise of the Canary Islands...what was once a spark had now become a blazing inferno. It felt like I had reclaimed my life, and nature was the facilitator in this miraculous process.
When I look back on the decisions I made and the lessons I have learnt, sometimes it feels difficult to put into words. I think there is so much of the human condition that is really hard to quantify, measure or translate. I believe that it is better to seek the experience rather than purely just conceptual understanding. However, there are a few points which I would like to share, in hopes that it would encourage others to seek their own version of what I have come to know.
In all of the times that I have made the effort to go outside and explore, very few of them I have ever regretted. In all of the times that I had gotten up early, the beauty of the sunrise had always made it worthwhile. On every day where it was raining, I would always feel better for having gone outside, even if it was uncomfortable. There is a point where you must sacrifice comfort for aliveness, because discomfort and adventure are often synonymous. To have something we have never had, we have to do something we have never done before. This is both true on an individual level but also on a macro level.
We have to look at what isn’t working in an honest and constructive manner, and be willing to make the necessary changes to create a new way — one that is more sustainable for our species, our wild spaces, and the other animals that we share this incredible planet with. If there is one thing that I can attest to the transformative power of, it would be spending more time in nature. Observing the beauty and uniqueness of the species that exist. Taking time to watch the sunrise or the sunset. Using our bodies as they were intended — to move, explore and experience what it truly means to be alive.
Adrian Howell is an endurance athlete and holistic health coach. You can follow his adventures on Instagram @adrianhowellcoaching.