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"The Future Is to Be More Human”

Swedish distance runner and international bestselling author Markus Torgeby lives by a simple philosophy: spend more time outside. It’s a philosophy that he discovered the hard way.

Once a promising ultramarathon runner, an injury forced him to the sidelines. He opted out of society at large in favor of living in the wilds of northern Sweden year-round with little more than a teepee, some reindeer skins, and an ax. He ran. And ran.

Years later he still lives in northern Sweden with his wife and three daughters -- all of them in a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding woods and mountains.

To hear Torgeby tell it, time spent in nature is something of a panacea for the ailments of modern living. And he’s not wrong. Science tells us that even small amounts of time spent in nature can improve mental health, and lower blood pressure and cortisol levels.  

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In Sweden, a right to roam called the allmanesrätten guarantees Swedish citizens (and visitors to Sweden) access to nature. The Swedish public can go anywhere and even pitch a tent on private property as long as there’s an absence of no trespassing signs.

It’s easy to draw a direct line between allmanesrätten and the Swedes' national love for the outdoors.

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The ethics of outdoor recreation are somewhat different in the United States, where the outdoors are a complicated patchwork of public and private lands managed by federal and state agencies as well as timber companies and railroad rights-of-way.

I wanted to talk to Torgeby to explore his philosophy of living-close-to-nature. In a place like Seattle, a place where outdoor traffic spikes significantly in the summer -– is there a balance to be struck between enjoying the benefits of nature and preserving healthy respect for the backwoods?

I contacted Torgeby who was happy to chat, despite the nine-hour difference between the Seattle area and Sweden. English is his second language, so some of the conversation below has been edited somewhat for brevity and clarity.

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SNC: Can you describe the ideal relationship between modern humans and nature?

MT: I can talk from the Swedish perspective. Here, many people have food in their stomach and we live in houses. It’s no problem. But still many people aren’t happy. And I think about that a lot –- why is that? I think it’s because we live so high up on the ladder. I think living closer to your basic needs gives you some kind of perspective. 

SNC: I think what you’re describing is feeling the full range of human experience, not just trying to live in a narrow comfort zone.

"Just go out in the forest and run slow. It will help you to calm your thoughts and slow down."

MT: Yes, exactly like that. Today there are apps on the telephone that track your sleep. To me that’s crazy. Why? Just wake up in the morning and you can feel it. We have nerves and feelings. But today we give away this information and put all these things in apps. I don’t think that’s the future. I think the future is to be more human. We must have contact with our foundation. It’s easy to lose yourself. I think like this and I live my life like this.

Now I have lived up north in Sweden for many years. I try to teach my kids. I don’t know what they want to do when they’re older, but I want to build this foundation in them – a foundation of nature and feelings. I think it will help them. If they move to the city that’s ok, I think it will help them to remember this in the future when they’re very stressed. Just go out in the forest and run slow. It will help you to calm your thoughts and slow down.

SNC: Definitely. If I understand the laws in Sweden, it’s easier to access nature.

MT: Yes. Everything is free. You can sleep for one night you can stay. Everything is free. And, of course, that does something for the people in Sweden. It’s easier for people to build this relationship with nature.

SNC: Do you have any tips for folks who want to start trail running?

MT: Start slow. You don’t run with your legs, you run with your head – so you must take care of your head. Don’t push too much. Start slow. Become stronger in the legs. Start slow and realize that the head is important -- don’t push too much. Build some stamina in the brain. Many people push too much in the beginning. Give it some time. 

Check out Markus Torgeby books below

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