What Is This ‘Stoke’ That You Speak Of?

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A journey into stoke!

Last month I had the privilege of spending some time with fellow veterans as part of Team RWB’s Northwest Eagle Leader Experience held in the Cascade mountains of Bend, Oregon…which is also my hometown. I was stoked to embark on some outdoor adventures with other veterans in my own backyard. Before the event officially started, I had the fun task of doing a route recon for our snowshoe trip to the summit of Tumalo mountain, and that is where our journey into the world of ‘stoke’ began.

Accompanied by fellow veterans, Chris Schmitt and Isaiah Burkhart, we drove to Dutchman Sno-Park to get ready to put in some solid hours of breaking trail and route finding. Let it be known that both Isaiah and Chris are experienced alpine and backcountry dudes, and it became immediately apparent to me that one guy was going to suffer more than the other two on this recon. That one guy was me…the dumb guy…the only guy with running snowshoes while the smart guys were wearing backcountry skis. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, so as we loaded our packs and got ready to push off, I thought to myself, “This won’t be that bad. I’m just going to get a better workout than them.” In addition to my poor logic and reasoning, we had also received about five feet of new powder in the Cascades in the days leading up to this experience.

And so, all the conditions for ‘stoke’ were now set.

Chris and Isaiah took turns taking point and setting the pace from the beginning. Even with backcountry skis, breaking trail was no easy task for them, and following in their trails with my snowshoes was, in simple terms, a less than optimal experience. As we made our ascent up the mountain in deep powder, I found myself breathing hard, sweating to death, and my heart rate seemed to be holding steady at a ‘comfortable’ 160 beats per minute. As the miles passed and we got into a rhythm, it became obvious to me that Chris was a purveyor of stoke. He was stoked about everything. He was stoked to talk about stoke. And then he told us this story about a recent business meeting he had that included some individuals that were young, or I believe the politically correct term these days is…early in career. During this meeting, Chris was discussing experiences about being stoked, to which one younger girl responded, “What is stoke?” Completely perplexed by this story, I asked myself, “How is it possible that somebody has never heard of being stoked?” And then it dawned on me, to understand stoke, you have to experience stoke.

So, what is this ‘stoke’ that you speak of?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the slang definition for stoked is…being in an enthusiastic or exhilarated state. In a society that’s currently tethered to digital devices and social networks, it’s no surprise to me that very few professions create the opportunity for individuals to understand, let alone experience, an exhilarated state of being. Serving in the Armed Forces, on the other hand, is a profession that provides ample opportunities to experience stoke, and once you experience that feeling, you will most likely continue to seek it out long after you take off your uniform for the last time.

But what does stoke look like? What does it feel like? Being stoked may mean different things to different people. And so, as we were standing there discussing ‘stoke’ at 7,000 feet on the side of the mountain in waist deep snow on our final ascent to the summit, we were no longer just talking about stoke…we were stoked. There we stood, out in nature, experiencing all of its elements, pushing our bodies beyond their comfort zones, embracing the suck…all while joking with one another about the current situation and memories of crazy experiences from our past lives. As an analytical guy, I think about everything in terms of equations. Here’s my take on the ingredients necessary for creating greater levels of stoke in your life.

If Y= f(x1, x2, x3…), then Stoke = f(fellowship, trial, uncertainty, fulfillment).

So, as we came off the mountain on that Thursday afternoon, the stoke-meter was already high, and the weekend was just beginning. Over the next 60 hours, veterans from around the Northwest would snowshoe and hike with one another. We would face adversity, fears and self-imposed limitations. We would share stories. We would laugh, and some would cry. We would build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. We would walk away tired but energized. I think it’s safe to say that in the end we were all stoked.

But remember, being stoked doesn’t happen on accident. Seek the stoke. Stoke the stoke!