Disclaimer: Please understand that I’m speaking from my own experience & that my idea of adventure is not necessarily intended as a suggestion to follow.
For instance, you should always observe hiking lightning safety: stay off ridge-tops, away from open areas, rocks, water & snow, keep dry, spread out from your group & squat on a foam pad with your feet together. (Because I always hike with a foam pad in my backpack ready to assume a vaguely yogic posture in a lightning storm, don’t you?)
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Underneath it all, we are wild and we know it.
Adventure, which almost by definition involves mis-adventure, is simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t some mishaps.
It all started on a perfect day for river running. A balmy breeze. The afternoon sunlight dancing over the water.
Since I’d always been a strong swimmer (Water ballet was my high school sport of choice for Pete’s sake. How many poor sucks have that on their resume?), when I saw my chance to hitch a ride down river with a stranger who had a sudden vacancy on his two-man raft, I quickly jumped on board.
Even if said stranger had the time, he couldn’t have offered warning, because, well, he didn't speak English.
Not to worry, though, because within seconds of falling off the raft into the rapids without a life-preserver, I came to my own realization of just how royally screwed I was.
“Rivers can be wild, willful things that sweep you along gently one moment & violently upend you the next.”
Eric Smillie, Sunset Magazine
Here’s what my husband snapping pictures from the sideline—thinking I was having the time of my life—somehow missed:
My blond head & bugged eyes bobbing up to desperately gasp for air on the one brief occasion the river released me from its murky depths.
Me, tossing helplessly to & fro rag doll-like, body parts banging violently against jutting rocks.
My nephew (Rodney, God bless ‘m), the first to realize I was in trouble, jumped in to save me only to get caught up in the tail end of the rapids himself.
Good thing the whole episode lasted only 3 minutes or so—an eternity without oxygen—or I may not have lived to tell the tale.
Yet after emerging from the river, limbs intact, safety guaranteed, the adventure felt somehow enlivening.
My only regrets were the loss of my favorite pair of sunglasses (damn cruel fate) & the slight inconvenience of it-only-hurts-when-I-breathe bruised ribs.
Here I am on "reckoning day"—facing my fears for the first time after "the event” on a much-lazier river.
I’m struck by the fact that we plan our adventures around the weather, yet ironically, our most memorable experiences arise from being caught out in the least ideal conditions.
Like our hike to Royal Arch in Boulder which started in a squishy bog of mud that threatened to suck the boots right off our feet & ended with trails so icy that the only way down the precariously steep grade was to slide on our tushies.
Or the time we dodged lightning on a glacier.
Isabelle Glacier is a uniquely Colorado escape (our fine state has 26 named glaciers). Perched at 10,686 feet elevation, to visit this jewel you have to earn it.
Adventure is easy to come by in Colorado—partly due to the fact that the change in weather above 10,000 feet elevation can behave with startling drama.
And hiking above the tree line makes you the tallest object. (Read: lightning rod)
An informed respect for lightning & enough mountaineering sense to assess the risks & rewards you’ll encounter in big-mountain-high-consequence terrain is advisable.
Enter our mad group of adventurers who exercised little of either. (It’s important to note here that my friends Jenna & Steve have since become true mountaineers with eight 14-ers on their climbing resume. But at the time, they were novices just like us.)
Also worthy of note is that there were fair-minded among us who suggested turning back once the rain began & the thunder rumbled.
Not the least of whom was my husband.
While I throw myself headlong into adventure, Peter—a little more restrained—is only occasionally reluctant to follow. This was one of those occasions.
Since I apparently have some sort of dis-regulation of the prefrontal cortex—the judgment area of the brain that advises, “No, don’t do that,” I should stop here to credit Peter with tempering me when it comes to potentially dangerous scenarios.
And also note that it’s in the business world where he lives most adventurously—continually placing us out of our leagues unimpeded by what’s considered conventional or acceptable—in ways so bold he leaves me occasionally reluctant to follow.
Unaware until we arrived that we'd be walking on a glacier instead of just viewing one from a distance, some of us were inadequately attired. It was July after all.
But a bag of old clothes in our trunk destined for Goodwill came to our rescue.
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Notice Jenna sporting a strappy top with snow pants. (Never have figured out why she wore her backpack papoose-style for this picture. Some things cannot be explained.)
“The motley crew.” As you can see, our charity-bound trunk-ware wasn’t exactly REI-approved gear.
Adrift in the snow & silence of solitude, that is, until the, uh, thunder began.
The look of a man watching the swift development of ominous storm clouds
Soaked to the bone, can’t-feel-my-feet cold, nevertheless, the charge remained the same: Upward and onward, intrepid hikers—weather be damned! (Cursing twice in one post. I do live dangerously.)
That is, until we felt the earth quake under our feet following a nearby lightning strike (the first of many—cue adrenaline & escalating blood pressure), when even I knew it was time to get off the mountain—and be quick about it.
Only one teensy-weensy little problem: the imminent danger of the situation required a full speed run. But I had this pesky little knee issue, you see, that required me to descend in slow, precise movements (Read: hobble sideways geriatric-like) to avoid pain.
So to keep me from falling too far behind, my nephew offered his arm in support; alternating with Steve who after pegging me as dead weight, volunteered to piggyback me down. A suggestion I considered more hazardous than a full-on lighting strike.
Needless to say, we made it down the mountain in record-breaking time (45 minutes). And other than the lingering tendency to walk down stairs splayfooted for hours afterwards, we lived to hike another day. (It wouldn’t be the last time we were humbled by a mountain.)
A brew & a game of pool in this rustic mountain environ was the perfect finish to our mis-adventure.
Now I’m not suggesting anybody be an obsessive adventure seeker. After all, I spend a majority of my life reading, writing & researching, which means that most of the time you can find me cozily ensconced in warm, safe places.
But there’s no catalyst quite like adventure to trigger imagination & inspiration.
Rarely do my best ideas come while staring at a blank document on a computer screen. Especially in the mind-numbing phase of a deadline when it’s necessary to keep part of my brain distracted so the rest of it can focus. When stepping away from a project to see it more clearly, it's not uncommon for the perfect tag-line to pop into my melon or an intractable problem to be solved.
Author Seth Godin explains why in his book The Dip:
“Willingly encountering unfamiliar situations, you maximize the experiences that, though often inconvenient & uncomfortable, trigger huge leaps of imagination. When you go adventuring, you become a walking version of the long, wandering right-hemisphere neurons that create inspired ideas.”
And Edward Slingerland, in his book Trying Not to Try says:
“…when one is stymied by a problem, simply leaving it alone and doing something else is often the best way to solve it. This allows your unconscious to take over, and, as we’ve seen, the unconscious is often better at solving certain types of particularly complex problems.”
So, if you have problems to solve, insights to uncover, inspiration to stir or creativity to cultivate, try something new: Take a road trip to a place you haven’t visited before or give a new fitness routine a whirl.
Always do yoga? Try Zumba. Always listen to country? Switch the dial to classical. Always read nonfiction? Try fiction.
Take a long bike ride on a Sunday afternoon to somewhere you haven’t explored yet. Or cook an unfamiliar dish.
Whatever you choose, an adventure that takes you out of your daily routine will leave you ready to tackle your most challenging tasks with renewed inspiration & energy.
The more fun you have, the more willing you are to play, the less seriously you take yourself, the better.
Do something wild & soulful & totally unnecessary.
Embrace life & encounter adventure. Scare yourself once in a while. It makes life more interesting.
And the things that go wrong often make the best memories.
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