Life can be boring. We settle into the same monotonous pattern: go to work, sit in a cube in front of a computer, go home, sit on the couch in front of a television watching House reruns, go to sleep, wakeup and repeat. In the spirit of summer (and fitness), we challenge you to train for and conquer one of the five extreme activities listed below. And no, we're not being too hard on you—it turns out, goal-setting can be just as good for you as the physical activity being proposed.
"There are a tremendous number of benefits that come from setting and achieving a goal, particularly if you attribute the success to your hard work and ability," says Dr. Trent A. Petrie, director of the University of North Texas Center for Sports Psychology. "When you reach your goal, you generally experience more confidence in yourself, which can lead you to set additional goals."
This confidence and increased motivation can help you find continued success in your exercising, your personal life and your work life. Petrie adds that people who set and achieve goals are generally happier, less anxious and more satisfied with life.
When setting a goal, it needs to be realistic but challenging. A goal that's too easy won't give you that increased confidence or motivation. A goal that's too hard and decreases your chance of success will almost certainly lower your confidence and motivation.
"The key to successful goal setting is to establish a series of goals that become increasingly more challenging as you move along and attain your initial ones," explains Petrie. If your long-term goal is to hike seven miles of the Appalachian Trail, you should first set short-term goals that will act as steps to get you to the final one. "Those goals might include: Buy hiking shoes, walk a mile a day to break them in, do a shorter hike prior to the big trip, and so on."
Now, pick one of these five challenges and use Petrie's guide to goal-setting to make it happen:
Where to do it: The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine—it's about 2,178 miles in length. Calm down, we're not suggesting you hike the whole thing (though it's not a terrible idea if you have five or seven months to spare). But we do suggest you tackle a chunk of it. While most Trail visitors are day-hikers (covering a measly mile or two on a Sunday), many are also weekend hikers, who plan a two- or three-day camping trip and cover a dozen or more miles. That latter, is what we propose you become. On your first time out, expect to average no more than a mile an hour and plan for no more than seven to eight miles a day. Avoid harder terrains—such as those in northern New England and the southern end of the Trail—and plan for the more moderate grounds of Maryland and the Shenandoah National Park.
Activity: Whitewater rafting
Where to do it: New River Gorge in West Virginia
One of the oldest rivers in North America, New River Gorge has some of the country's best whitewater rafting. It's also one of many mysterious rivers that flow to the north. The rafting on this river typically occurs in the lower part between the Cunard put-in and Fayette Station. This route is a six-and-a-half mile course with rapids ranging from Class III (strong currents that require training and the ability to maneuver quickly) to Class V (violent, dangerous rapids through obstructed channels and soaring falls). Class V waters require a guide and so we suggest you team up with commercial outfitters, who offer trips from April through October. Of course, if you're a first-timer who happens to believe in baby steps, try the upper part of the river, which offers less challenging Class I to Class III rapids.
Activity: Mountain biking
Where to do it: Moab, Utah
Moab is most known for Slickrock Bike Trail, a demanding 10.5-mile trail that loops through changing elevations of petrified sand dunes and eroded ancient seabeds. This trail is physically and technically difficult and takes many riders four or five hours to complete. Afraid of eating it and suffering massive, full-body scrapes from the slickrock (which is actually less smooth and more like sandpaper)? We don't blame you. Beginners are encouraged to try the Bar-M Loop, which is 7.9 miles (or shorter, depending on your route) and is a mellow family-friendly ride on a dirt road with some rocky sections. Too easy? Don't worry, Goldilocks, there's a handful of other loops—all of which can be customized—so you'll be able to find a trail that's just right.
Where to do it: Four Pass Loop in Western Colorado
Nestled within the Elk Mountains, the Four Pass Loop is a brutal 28-mile route that circumnavigates the Maroon Bells. The trail is normally done as a three- or four-day hike but the most seasoned runners can do it about 10 hours. The hardest parts: 7,500 feet of climbing and descending, numerous creek crossing and altitudes up to 12,460 feet (read: thin air). The parts that make it all worth it: copious amounts of wildflowers, green meadows and stunning views of the Maroon Bells. Plan your trip for mid-to-late July for optimal weather and terrain conditions.
Activity: Rock climbing
Where to do it: Yosemite Valley in California
Accounting for just a small percentage of Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Valley is one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the world. Its rock faces offer diverse routes that demand strength and technique. Throughout the valley, the slick rocks have few handholds and force climbers to jam hands and feet in the tiniest of cracks and call greatly upon balance skills. Only a few climbs are rated 5.7 and easier; the most common and less-crowded routes are 5.8 and higher. For experienced climbers, we suggest the Nutcracker, a 5.8 classic 600-foot climb of granite cracks. After a five-minute approach, you'll be greeted with liebacking, hand jamming, finger jamming, delicate smearing and an exposed mantle crux. The whole thing takes about two to four hours to ascend.