Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nurturing the explorer within

"We rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces
endurance, endurance produces
character, and character produces
hope.  And hope does not
disappoint us."

                             -Romans 5:3-5

Oh oh.  It's getting to be that time of year again, when my mind starts wandering--yes, yes, for those who know me it is always wandering--and the adventure bug begins to bite.  For some odd reason, each fall--but this year it seems to be coming on a bit early--I start to dream.

"All men dream, but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity.  But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."
-T.E. Lawrence
(one of my all-time favorite movies is Lawrence of Arabia)

For the formable years of my life, age 17-25, I wrapped myself in a circle of adventure addicts.  In addition to personal training, I worked at Midwest Mountaineering and REI in Minneapolis.  I found comfort in knowing there were others who spent their free time pouring over maps and wondering "what if?"  And although I never became an adventurer like those around me--some of the best known mountaineers, paddlers, skiers and Arctic explorers all came out of Midwest Mountaineering--they nurtured the gift of curiosity my parents had given me.

Now, I tend to read fewer non-fiction adventure books--I keep it down to about four a year--partly because it's a painful thought to have to quit my job just to head out on long trips, partly because a little bit of me has grown soft and I like the creature comforts growing roots has given me.  Sure, if I didn't "have" to work for a living, I'd be planning adventure after adventure with stints of cocooning and licking my wounds in between, but this is the real world and so I'm stuck trying to find balance between the two.

The book I have just finished brought out the adventure side in me full tilt.  The title "The Explorers" says everything.  I have no interest in walking across Africa like Burton and Speke, or sailing in the cold, icy waters like Shakleton, but it isn't the specific trip which captures's the feeling.  Reading about these amazing people's journeys makes me want to get off my ass, or at least transfer it to a bike saddle, point my handlebars anywhere and go.

As I creep closer and closer to turning forty in a mere two weeks, I'm beginning to do the thing I said I never would.  Thoughts about who I would be now if I had continued on my climbing or dogsledding journey cross my mind when I'm feeling stuck.  Then, reality hits, the veil is lifted and I realize I would most likely be a divorcee (not because my husband doesn't love adventure but because most adventurers I know blow through spouses), working at an outdoor shop or as a guide (neither of which are as glamorous as they seem), living part time out of the back of a pickup, and teetering on the verge of alcoholism when not on trail.  This is sad but true, and it is the image I have of most adventurers I know who are my age.

As I said before, finding balance is key.  There is no way I could keep living without dreams or possibilities, and it is one hell of a job trying to fit these things into a tightly run schedule, but I'm going to have to keep trying.  One or two day adventures are completely attainable--the gravel grinders and winter rides do a really nice job giving me my fix for short periods of time--but this is the time of the year when I start thinking bigger.  One trip which keeps grazing my mind is biking the Dempster Highway up in the Northwest Territories.  It's been done, probably thousands of times, what hasn't really?, but it hasn't been done by me and it would be one hell of a test mentally and physically--partly due to the nagging mosquitoes and black flies.  There aren't many places that would feel so remote by bike--plus still be me--and that is part of the reason I'm drawn to it.

There is this great quote by Mallory, who was the first explorer of Everest.  It sums up all my feelings  perfectly.  When I was with Outward Bound, this quote was buried deep since the goal of each trip was not to find "joy" but instead to go through turmoil to find oneself.  I think I like this way of approaching adventures a bit more.

"The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.'  There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever.  Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation.  But otherwise nothing will come of it.  We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron.  We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food.  It's no use.  So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go.  What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy.  And joy is, after all, the end of life.  We do not live to eat and make money.  We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life.  That is what life means and what life is for."

As I sit in my comfortable Midwestern home, knowing I won't have a large planned adventure for quite some time, I must make do with finding small adventures on my regular bikabouts.  I have to go back to thinking the way I did when I was eight--heading out into a snow storm, building a snow cave, and pretending I was a polar explorer even though I was in the heart of Minneapolis.  I have to make a point to take roads not normally on my planned routes.  I have to pay extra attention to the flora and fauna around me.  But most importantly, I have to find and nurture joy.

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