Walt Hester
Cecelia Gardon of San Antonio, Texas, leans and laughs in gratitude on Active Aspen adaptive ski instructor Bobby Palm at Bear Lake earlier this year. Gardon fell off of a double black-diamond ski run in 1988 and had not been on skis since, due in part to post traumatic stress disorder. Laughter can be the release valve for all kinds of stress.

The one bone I don’t want to break in the outdoors is my funnybone.

(Of course I still wear a helmet.)

I was reminded of this last week when I interviewed Mike Scherer, a Louisville resident who has skied at least once a month for the past 300 months in a row. When he told me about skiing on Saint Mary’s Glacier, he called it laughable because the conditions were so incredibly bad.

When I talked to his friend, Dougald MacDonald, he added that skiing once a month never seems like a burden for Mike, and he never complains about lousy conditions — it’s just something he does and enjoys.

I wondered if rather than drive and internal motivation, it’s Mike’s sense of humor that kept him going through those 300 months, or more to the point, through the lean months for 25 consecutive years.

Perhaps a sense of humor, not a knife or a windproof lighter, is the essential tool you should always take outdoors with you to maximize your sport-induced bliss.

I’ve laughed at myself through every outdoor sport I’ve tried. How can I not? Postholing through butt-high snow to climb a smear of ice is such a ridiculous thing to do, I think, that recognition of your own hysteria is required for every step forward.

Likewise, mountain biking every weekend knowing that you could end up tangled inextricably in your mountain bike and a log-and-brush pile? Ridiculous. (I was still pinned under my bike, still clipped in and giggling when my husband rode up laughing and asked, “Why did you think you could ride that?”)

There’s no good reason for an adult to be pinned beneath a bike and tree limbs. I mean, I could be enjoying my life in my climate-controlled home, sitting on my cozy couch, not needing to pull a single twig out of my hair.

And there wouldn’t be anything funny about that. Or fun.

“You go, ‘of course it’s ridiculous, that’s what I love about it, that it’s not normal, it’s not conventional,'” Timmy O’Neill told me when I called him for a little insight into the importance of humor.

Timmy is the climbing community’s comedian, and I knew he would be able to confirm whether a sense of humor was essential part of one’s outdoor toolkit.

“A sense of humor is essential for life, right?” was his reply.

“Humor helps you realize the absurdity of life, and the absurdity of these situations we find ourselves in.”

“Like climbing?”

“Absolutely climbing — talk about that morbid release valve for the stress,” he said.

Timmy hit on why it’s really important to laugh at both yourself and the situations we land in outdoors. It’s not just the times you’re pinned under a bike or are skiing in September (again) that require humor. When you face cliffs, avalanches, injury or death, either your own or your friends’ — that’s when you really need that release valve.

“Humor snaps us out,” Timmy said. “We’re laughing and having a good time, and we’re like, wait a second, what was I worried about? I was worried about dying on that lead, or I was worried about drowning in that rapid.”

Laughter can also be how we connect — and that might be why we’re out there.

An old colleague from Backpacker magazine told me the story of a miserable week and a half he spent cowering in a tent while it poured rain and snow all day every day. They were supposed to be backpacking. Instead they spent countless hours entertaining themselves and laughing at the absurdity of it all.

He smiled wistfully and as he said it was one of the most memorable trips he’d ever taken.

“As they say,” Timmy said, “if it wasn’t for laughing, I’d be crying.”

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