Extreme Sports in Utah

10 Life Lessons

by Brigit Callaghan Stacey

Recently I visited Moab, Utah with my husband and my in-laws. We had an “extreme sport” weekend; we mountain biked along rocky terrain, drove ATVs up steep canyons, and navigated rafts through white water rapids. Although each activity was stressful in a sense—it certainly wasn’t a leisurely trip—each activity challenged us to face our fears while having fun.

Before each pursuit, we listened carefully to different guides’ lengthy speeches to ensure we would be safe, responsible, and have fun. I noticed that each one offered wisdom that could be applied to life in general—practical advice I could use to deal with stressful situations and to make the most out of life. It’s amazing how this advice applies to life outside the wilderness—or maybe the real wilderness is within the confines of civilization!

Here are the ten life lessons I learned from the extreme sports guides:

1) Vision: Look Where You Want to Go.

Our mountain biking guide said vision would be the difference between us staying on our bikes or falling off of them… down a cliff. “Look ahead to where you want to go, and your body and bike will go there," she said. “If you look to where you don’t want to go, your eyes will direct your body and your bike there, and you’ll fall.” If you don’t want to fall off a cliff, don’t look down it. If you want to scale a 2-foot rock, look past it and toward the path where you want to end up, and you’ll get there. Eyes on the prize. Stay positive. Negativity and worry, thinking about the places and situations in life where you don’t want to be, tends to cause you to end up there. It’s the law of attraction.

2) One Finger on the Brake Is Enough.

Usually, when we ride bikes, we keep our index, middle, and ring fingers hovering over the brake lever in case we need to brake. However, our mountain biking guide told us “one finger is enough.” When you keep three fingers on the brake, you have less steering control. One finger is enough power to stop you. In the same way, move forward in life; don’t be so scared that you call it quits on something early. Focus on steering, not stopping.

3) Keep Your Pedals Level So You Don’t Hit Rocks.

Normally when I’m cruising on a bike, my pedals are not level. Doing that while mountain biking, however, can cause the pedals and our feet to get banged up by rocks and eventually throw us off the bike, our guide said. Stay level when you cruise on your bike; stay level-headed when you’re cruising in life. Never take anything for granted, and stay balanced to avoid major crashes.

4) Always Keep Your Elbows and Knees Flexible in “Ready” Position.

While you should only keep one finger on the brake, and focus not on stopping but on a constant motion, your elbows and knees should be bent, ready to ride over rocky terrain. Don’t stiffen up—stay flexible. Just like keeping your joints flexible and bent allows you to gracefully absorb the shock from rocks, staying mentally and emotionally flexible allows you to absorb the shock of life!

5) Pedal to the Metal.

When we drove ATVs up steep canyons and down precipices, our guide told us that once we know where we are and what we’re doing, we should put the pedal to the metal, and don’t look behind when climbing up steep inclines. If you look back, you’ll fall. The same goes for life: stay in motion and don’t look back. The past can stall us from moving toward a happy future. Once you get started, don’t stop, don’t quit, and never look back.

6) Confidence Is the Difference Between Success and Failure.

With every activity, confidence made the difference between success or failure. Confidence is not to be confused with arrogance, however. A healthy dose of confidence gave us the courage to do things we imagined to be scary. Nobody knows what they’re doing and nobody has control over their own lives. That’s why it’s important to be confident, believe in yourself, and have faith that things will work out.

7) Every Action Has an Equal and Opposite Reaction.

While white water rafting, we were told that the paddle must always be in the water. As soon as the paddle catches air, the raft could flip. It’s important to paddle hard to stay in the raft and keep the paddle and raft balanced. Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. In life, we must remember that everything we do not only has consequences in our own lives, but also affects someone else’s life.



8) Self-Rescue Is the Best Rescue.

Our white water rafting guides reminded us that if we fall out of the raft, the surest way to be rescued is if we try to rescue ourselves. Aggressively swimming toward the raft would save us faster than waiting for someone to navigate the raft toward us. Sure, you can trust your guides and family to attempt to help you, but no one cares as much about your life and safety as you do. Be your own advocate, save yourself, and make sure you’re doing everything in your power to take care of yourself. Don’t rely on other people.

9) Respect Mother Nature.

When we finished rafting through the rapids, I asked our guide if he ever got scared as he paddled through the choppy waters. “If you’re not a little bit scared, you’re not taking the river seriously,” he replied. Even the most experienced, talented people get scared. If you’re not scared, you’re stupid, and taking life for granted. It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s important to have confidence, be responsible, and take things seriously in order to survive.

10) Leave Things How You Found Them.

In the wild, it’s important to leave things as you found them. Dropping a crumb on the ground would attract ants or mice, which would attract snakes… Our guides repeated how important it was that we didn’t leave food on the ground at camp. They reminded us it would be a mortal sin to leave garbage, for obvious reasons, and in order to protect the ecosystem, we should not alter the environment by taking something away or leaving something behind. Having respect for the earth and the natural order of things not only helps others to thrive, but also ensures your own survival and success.


To be honest, when each guide began his or her instructional speech, at the time I was too focused on all the things that could go wrong to realize each beautiful metaphor. As soon as I got onto the mountain bike, into the ATV, and onto the raft though, I realized that each vehicle was designed for the extreme terrain and adventure I was about to embark on. I learned to trust each vehicle, listen to each guide, and have fun!

You were designed to live a happy, adventurous life. Follow each guide’s instructions and there’s no doubt many more adventures lie ahead.

More on the area

Dead Horse Point
Exploring Canyonland
Exploring Arches


Share this page on Facebook:

DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)

The Desert Environment
The North American Deserts
Desert Geological Terms


Enter Email:

Shop desert store



Copyright © 1996- DesertUSA.com and Digital West Media, Inc. - -