The Paradox of Choice: Outdoor Edition

When choosing between multiple good options, how do you choose?
Jessica Hewitt Jessica Hewitt
Climber & Ultrarunner
July 06, 2019

It started around 7am Thursday morning. My phone buzzed with a new text message, and I lazily rolled over to check who was from.

“What are you running this weekend?”

With a number of options open, I hadn’t really thought about it. I was already trying to decide between two options for climbing, and while I knew I should get a run in, I wasn’t really sure where or how many miles.

I love my trail running friends dearly, but despite having a 3-day Wonderland adventure on my calendar this year, I’ve found myself struggling to revive that passion for high mileage days. My favorite adventure partner Addy jumped on the bed and awkwardly bodyslammed me looking for snuggles, reminding me of a critical sticking point for many weekends in the mountains: finding a dogsitter. At some point, I would need to make a decision, but for now I was determined to get more sleep. I rolled over and closed my eyes. Fifteen minutes later, my phone buzzed again.

“DID YOU SEE THE EMAIL ABOUT BAKER?!?”

Wait… what?! I quickly checked my email - yup! An invite to climb the Coleman-Demming route was in my inbox. Glacier climbing too?! With that, I was out of bed and my mind was racing at the possibilities.

CAN WE DO ALL THE THINGS this weekend?

As enticing as the high level earthraging would be, no, doing all the things was too much. I felt a growing tightness in my chest, realizing that I was excited about all of the options, but I would have to choose between them, and choose soon unless I wanted to forfeit many of the opportunities.

Finding a last minute dogsitter proved easier than expected (and I can attest- there’s absolutely nothing better than sending your dog off for a weekend with someone who you know will spoil them). One hurdle cleared, I confronted the overabundance of opportunity remaining.  Deciding what should be the highest priority proved challenging. One of my biggest goals for the year is to become a confident trad climber so that I could start pursuing more technical peaks, but I also have both glacier plans and running adventures planned that demanded some preparation and training.

In the aftermath of my 100 miler attempt, without the overriding need to train and put in the time on my feet, I found myself increasingly drawn to climbing, almost to the point that this January when I made my list of goals for the year, I had a bit of an identity crisis. I had ambitions to attempt another 100 miler, and I wanted to run the Wonderland, but staring at the list of peaks I wanted to climb, I realized I didn’t solidly fit in the category of trail runner with a mountaineering habit anymore. Was I a runner who climbed, or a climber who ran? Did it matter? After sitting out my last three races and realizing how woefully underprepared I would be for my next rapidly approaching 50k, I didn’t start 2019 out feeling very much like a runner. By May, after years of being almost exclusively a gym climber, I had made first steps into climbing outdoors and I was loving it more and more with every visit to the crag. When torn between two loves, how does anyone choose?

By early afternoon I resolved to go for a run to clear my head, and in that post-run endorphin-boosted clarity, a single realization dawned on me: if all the options are good options, then there’s no wrong choice. My shiny new cams caught my eye, and rather than sink more thought into the process, I went with the first decision that came to mind immediately after: cragging! This poor glacier-loving girl was probably going to melt in the upper 80 degree heat in Eastern Washington, but it was a golden opportunity to reinforce all the things that I'd learned about setting pro and making bomber anchors. 

Jessica using her cams on a 5.3 slab lead.

Decision made, two twin realizations followed:

  • We live in a very special place to have all of these possibilities, and right now is an especially great time of year when so are viable options!
  • I am truly blessed to have so many people in my life who love mountains as much as I do and enjoy them in so many ways. Expanding that circle by adding technical climbing to my life has been more than worth it.

I’m sure this summer holds many more moments of indecision, and with hodgepodge of minor scrapes and bruises from recent adventures - knee bruises from my first multi-pitch, flesh wounds from tripping over the lone rock in a ribbon of buttery single track, and skin missing from my hands from jamming-  it’d be easy to just focus on one of these activities. But variety is the spice of life, and as someone who loves to stay busy and challenged, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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