Those of us that have spent any amount of time on outdoor adventures know that sinking feeling when things don’t go to plan. Opening the trunk to find only one hiking boot, a stray roadside nail causing a flat while pedalling along, or getting above the tree line to realize that the freezing rain you wished away hasn’t cleared and the next two miles of exposed rock is now a treacherous ice rink. When encountering the lows, it can sometimes be difficult to see how far you have come. However, in the woods, it often comes down to just you, and you alone, being the only one who can make your situation better by finding a way over, under, around, or just right on through every obstacle.
“Luckily, the good days usually far outnumber the bad ones.”
No hiking boots? Looks like your Crocs are getting a little bit more action than driving to the trailhead today, thank goodness they have that heel strap.
One flat tire? Flip the bike over on the nearest lawn and get the patch kit out. Patch blows out and then you flat the rear too? Curse the asshole who is out to get you, and ride home on the rims, they can take it.
Icy exposed rock? Well, sometimes a win is walking off the mountain unharmed.
The allure of the outdoors comes from the unexpected challenges mother nature throws our way, where the lows accentuate highs. The internal motivation for the next adventure comes from that need to crest the next hill and freewheel down the backside of the monster you have conquered. Luckily, the good days usually far outnumber the bad ones.
This past October I made my way across the Champlain Valley through the recently harvested corn fields to the Adirondacks at the height of leaf peeping season. I had left early from the Green Mountain State before the sun rose to get across the lake and to the trailhead near the Adirondack Loj located at 1250ft above sea level. There my hiking partner and girlfriend was waiting in the parking lot with her friends, all local New Yorkers, still sipping on their morning coffees.
“Nothing has taught me the same independence and confidence as my outdoor mishaps and successes”
The primary goal of this hike was to take in the stunning change of colors that draws millions of tourists to the northeast every fall. However, today this popular trailhead parking lot was not even near half full. Unfortunately, the weather was not looking good and it seemed many tourists were pursuing other options today. But we chose to roll the dice, cross our fingers, and hope that the views cleared by the afternoon seeing as how the sun was already poking through.
Two hours later after several miles and layer changes we reached the first minor peak. By this point, low veils of mist have descended to approximately 3000ft and we are officially in the clouds. The clear views below us provide some encouragement to push on with the hike with our fingers still crossed.
An hour later we reach the first high peak over 4000ft and nearly miss the occasion because the cloud cover is so thick. Equally disheartening is the muddy trail leading onward.
After another hour and half of dodging wet spots and mud pits, we reach the second high peak, Nippletop mountain, the highest point of the hike at 4,600ft. So far we have covered 7.5 miles and been on the trail for almost 5 hours and seen absolutely nothing but impenetrable fog obscuring the glorious fall foliage.
From here it was all downhill back to the trailhead, but only in the physical sense. While disappointment pervaded the group morale it was overridden by the outstanding accomplishment of a 15-mile hike with almost 5000ft of elevation gain and two more high peaks crossed off the
46er challenge. This particular hike was chosen for its famed beauty in no matter the time of year. While we were unfortunate with the weather and felt somewhat robbed of observing the physical beauty, it wasn’t all bad. It was Another precious day was spent in the mountains with friends, pushing ourselves, and learning how to draw out the small joys of disappointing situations.
The challenges that present themselves to outdoorsman are a part of the job. The challenges that present themselves day to day are just part of life. I add nothing new by repeating “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” but as a lifelong outdoors person, I can say nothing has taught me the same independence and confidence as my outdoor mishaps and successes. In fact, all the misadventures simply add reference points to understand how things could get worse, and when things are bad, surely it can only get better.
Cover photo: The view from Indian Head, one of the best spots in the Adirondacks for fall hiking.
In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.
TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?
Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.
When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.
Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.
When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.
TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?
“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”
Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.
In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.
When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!
“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”
We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.
There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.
“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”
The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.
We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.
TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?
“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”
Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.
The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?
There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.
“It comes down to small changes.”
It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.
You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.
We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.
We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?
Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.
Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain
Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.
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