Embracing the Rocking Chair Theory
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Heather Sundquist
My friend Terra is the female version of the Dos Equis man.
Seriously, she can do anything. She trekked into California’s backcountry, alone with her infant and toddler, to camp for a week because she felt restless. She can ride mountain bikes and motorcycles as well as any dude. She stopped, mid-hike, to take my kids down a natural waterslide created by a rock crevice, plunging them into a freezing pool below. She sea kayaks (I don’t even want to kayak in a stream). She can make a bonfire and pitch a tent with twinkle lights with her bare hands. She has perfectly sun-streaked blond hair without paying for it. She makes a minivan look like pure sex. She ran the Grand Canyon—rim to rim to rim to rim—in the throes of grief right after her mother died.
Her garage has more gear than an REI store, and she knows how to use all of it. She once body slammed me out of the path of a coiled rattle-snake when we were trail running, calmly stating that she refused to carry my dying ass down the mountain—but added that she could, if she had to, and I believed her.
I’m not really sure why she chooses to be my friend, but I guess I must make her laugh. We run, hike, and drink wine together any chance we get.
On one particular run, along a bluff overlooking the Santa Barbara coastline, she shared a theory that changed my life. She calls it the Rocking Chair Theory. Basically, the theory states that we should consider any decision through the lens of being an old lady rocking in a rocking chair on a front porch and think, ‘What story would I want to tell? What path did I take? What adventure did I have? How did I conduct myself when no one was looking? What choice contributes to the most awesome narrative of a lifetime? And even if I chose wrong and totally face planted, what choice can I make next to turn the plot around?’ I love thinking this way, applying little decisions to the big picture.
Terra has been talking about embarking on this one adventure ever since I’ve known her—running the Tour du Mont Blanc, roughly 100 miles around the base of Mount Blanc in France, Italy, and Switzerland. About a month or so ago, she decided to follow her dream. Terra was planning to create a serious rocking chair tale. She was making reservations, and she wanted to know who was in.
I sat on the fence long enough to get splinters until I finally said yes.
So this July, I am running more than 100 miles in six days, at altitude and over rugged terrain. I pictured us with sherpas carrying our luggage from one charming hotel to another.
I am excited and afraid, in equal measure…I’m excited to see what I’m made of, but afraid of pushing my limits. I’m afraid of getting lost, but excited to find myself.
Alas, no. We are the sherpas, running with our backpacks, staying in huts and hostels along the route. There have been emails flying between our group members talking about all kinds of things I know nothing about—gear lists and training programs for multiday endurance efforts. Someone mentioned practicing running with poles, to help on steep descents. I responded, “In Texas, poles are for fishermen and strippers. Please advise.” I’m sure they wonder about the girl from Austin, and why exactly Terra invited her. I’m going to dust off my French skills in hopes of having something to offer the group besides snarky humor and body odor.
I am excited and afraid, in equal measure. I’m afraid of being too slow and getting separated from the group and ending up on an episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive—or worse, not being on an episode. I am excited to see what I’m made of, but afraid of pushing my limits. I am afraid of getting lost, but excited to find myself.
Most of all, I am excited to be off the fence and declare myself all in. When I’m old and rocking on my front porch, I hope to have an amazing story to tell my grandkids about my epic European trek around the mountain. And hopefully I will be 100 miles closer to becoming my own version of a Dos Equis woman.
Read more from the Outdoors Issue | April 2017