The Benefits of Type II Fun

*Post originally published at*

Yesterday I joined some friends for a 55-mile gravel bike ride around Virginia’s Holliday Lake State Park. The forecast called for a partly sunny day with temperatures in the mid-50s – ideal for an early springtime ride. Having ridden with this group of adventurous folks several times I knew to plan for the unexpected. This ride was no different – we experienced downed trees, washed out sections of single track, creek crossings, friendly and unfriendly pups, and all seasons of weather – sunshine, nice breezes, rain, sleet, heavy winds, and a little mini snowstorm. The latter of these hit us on a particularly challenging 500’ climb with a gusty headwind that almost blew me over several times. I’m not the fastest rider, even on a clear day, so I took my preferred place as the caboose and remained there for most of the day, or so I thought. At the top of that climb with the flurries blowing like little needles into our faces, a friend and I stopped to reset ourselves a bit and have a laugh about springtime in Virginia when another friend slogged up the hill behind us. They were clearly exhausted, more than just out of breath. We offered them water, electrolytes, food, and anything else to keep them upright and help them finish the last 15 miles of the ride. About halfway through the Clif Bar I offered them, they caught their breath and said, “this is some Type II fun, for sure!”

Those of us into adventuring in the outdoors know about the three types of fun: Type I fun is fun to do and fun to talk about, Type II fun is not fun to do but is fun to talk about, and Type III fun is activity that is NOT fun to do and NOT fun to talk about. The source of this metric is hard to trace, but I first read about it in Andrew Skurka’s National Geographic Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide and I have applied it to all sorts of activities, outdoors and indoors, since. I had been thinking about it (and feeling it) all morning because I had listened to an episode of the bikepacking podcast Bikes or Death on the 1.5 hour drive to the meet up spot. On this episode, the host, Patrick Farnsworth, tags along with the Adventure Media Course at Texas Tech University that has students, many with absolutely no outdoor experience at all, embark on a 5-day, 100-mile bikepacking trip in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico and then document their experience for college credit. Since stepping out of my car and onto my bike, I had been thinking about Type II fun and the learning and personal growth that comes from experiencing it, so I took it as a sign that I needed to explore this further when my new friend pulled up alongside of me and laughed about Type II fun, all while clearly not enjoying themselves much.

When I taught writing in high school English classrooms, I would attempt to console my students by reminding them that writing is one of the hardest things any of us will ever do, and as much as we do it, we can always improve. (This is also why I refuse to use the term “final draft,” but that’s another blog post.) Just as we experience the three types of fun in the outdoors, I would argue that we experience them as teachers and learners in the classroom as well. Reading a well-crafted essay that truly makes us feel some kind of way can be Type I fun, drafting an essay of our own can often feel like Type III fun, but with time and careful revision, Type II fun, we can power through and come up with something that we are proud to share – and we are likely to run through the whole range of these types with any given assignment, just like we would on any challenging hike or ride. The goal is to turn any Type III fun into Type II fun with time and reflection, essential for personal growth. This is the same kind of growth that comes from the grit and productive struggle of leaning into our failures and shortcomings and coming out with greater knowledge regardless of the subject. The content matters, sure, but it’s the Type II fun of learning something that is challenging at first that makes that knowledge stick. We could read about the steps in the writing process all day, but without embracing the struggle and leaning into the challenge of doing the darn thing, we don’t truly learn how to write and feel proud of our work.

Years back, a couple of fellow teachers and I took a group of students on a backpacking trip in Virginia’s Triple Crown over Spring Break. On the second and most rigorous day of the 3-day trek, after a hard 1700’ climb over a stretch of about ¾ of a mile, we were blessed with a hailstorm that quickly turned into a full-blown snowstorm (neither were in the forecast – surprise!), and we had 12.5 miles to go along a windy, freezing ridgeline before we got to our next campsite. Most of the conditions for Type III fun were present (thankfully, nobody was hurt or worse), but one student in particular asked one of the other teachers on the trek to tell her everything he knew about physics and philosophy to help take her mind off of the grueling conditions of the hike. He did as she asked, for a few hours straight, and it must have worked for both of them. They were able to distract themselves from those Type III conditions and finish the hike with smiles on their faces (the others were smiling after we decided to call a shuttle back to our van and end the trip early). That student ended up earning a 5 on her AP Physics exam and earned a full scholarship to her first-choice school for engineering. I can’t prove it, but I suspect her learning was strengthened by experiencing Type II fun on the trail that day, and if we can teach our students to get comfortable with the productive struggle of Type II fun, some of them will experience similar growth.

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