Andrew McAuley suggested that sea kayaking was the new mountaineering. For him it was, and it is luring me in too. But for some reason it isn’t drawing the crowds that a new frontier maybe should. It is baffling how many untouched adventures exist on the open water. But even many serious mountaineers draw the line at an open ocean crossing. 95% of the ocean has yet to be explored and until recently, more was known about the surface of the moon. The water turns people away and rightfully so. It has been hundreds of millions of years since we were residents of an aquatic environment. It is foreign to us, unstable. We are not the top of the food chain in the ocean. In fact, we are so outnumbered that an open ocean swimmer is as easy of a meal as a pork tenderloin on your dinner plate. We can only be visitors to the ocean, and that humility is something foreign to the designed environments.
Today I watched a video of a guy riding his bicycle on a Brazilian road at 124 km/hr. I am not critical of his decision to do this, simply observant that this is thrill-seeking behavior. It is his life to do with it what he wants. But I wondered if my idea of adventure was synonymous with his and I believe it almost certainly is not. Not that he should be ashamed, there are many ways to live a life. But what he is doing is undoubtedly seeking out danger. I on the other hand am working to do everything I can to prevent danger, to lower the risk. Anyone who talks to me for five minutes about the trip will understand that I am extremely well prepared. I am reducing the chances of anything going wrong bit by bit and in a way, am finding it safer than many mountaineering expeditions.
The point is that I don’t seek adventure our for thrills. I am not fueled by the adrenaline rush, nor do I have any desire to experience danger. Chris Hadfield, a NASA astronaut, gave an incredible talk on danger and fear to a TED audience. He acknowledged that the danger existed with his flight into space but he went ahead anyways.
“Why would anyone ever do this? What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? Or another way to say it is, what’s the most dangerous thing that you’ve ever done? And why did you do it? I know what the most dangerous thing is that I’ve ever done because NASA does the math. You look back to the first five shuttle launches, the odds of a catastrophic event during the first five shuttle launches was one in nine. And even when I first flew in the shuttle back in 1995, 74 shuttle flight, the odds were still now that we look back about one in 38 or so — one in 35, one in 40. Not great odds, so it’s a really interesting day when you wake up at the Kennedy Space Center and you’re going to go to space that day because you realize by the end of the day you’re either going to be floating effortlessly, gloriously in space, or you’ll be dead.”
At times, I have been so tremendously scared of death that I found myself stuck in a state of unrealistic monotony and comfort. I didn’t want to try anything too crazy for fear of rejection. I wanted to experience the world, but I lived in absolute fear of the consequences. My life was absolutely ripping by me. Roz Savage, an ocean rower, discusses a similar feeling:
“For a long time, I didn’t believe that I could have a big adventure. The story that I told myself was that adventurers looked like this. I didn’t look the part. I thought there were them and there were us, and I was not one of them. So for 11 years, I conformed. I did what people from my kind of background were supposed to do. I was working in an office in London as a management consultant. And I think I knew from day one that it wasn’t the right job for me. But that kind of conditioning just kept me there for so many years, until I reached my mid-30s and I thought, “You know, I’m not getting any younger. I feel like I’ve got a purpose in this life, and I don’t know what it is, but I’m pretty certain that management consultancy is not it.
“So, fast forward a few years. I’d gone through some changes. To try and answer that question of, “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” I sat down one day and wrote two versions of my own obituary, the one that I wanted, a life of adventure, and the one that I was actually heading for which was a nice, normal, pleasant life, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be by the end of my life. I wanted to live a life that I could be proud of. And I remember looking at these two versions of my obituary and thinking, “Oh boy, I’m on totally the wrong track here. If I carry on living as I am now, I’m just not going to end up where I want to be in five years, or 10 years, or at the end of my life.” I made a few changes, let go of some loose trappings of my old life, and through a bit of a leap of logic, decided to row across the Atlantic Ocean.”
Chris Hadfield goes on to answer the question I often get of why I would do such a thing in spite of real fear and real danger:
“But the key to that is by looking at the difference between perceived danger and actual danger, where is the real risk? What is the real thing that you should be afraid of? Not just a generic fear of bad things happening. You can fundamentally change your reaction to things so that it allows you to go places and see things and do things that otherwise would be completely denied to you …where you could see the hardpan south of the Sahara, or you can see New York City in a way that is almost dreamlike, or the unconscious gingham of Eastern Europe fields or the Great Lakes as a collection of small puddles. You can see the fault lines of San Francisco and the way the water pours out under the bridge, just entirely different than any other way that you could have if you had not found a way to conquer your fear. You see a beauty that otherwise never would have happened.”
So yeah this is scary stuff, really scary stuff. But with adequate preparation, I will be able to experience my home, my planet, my universe from a beautiful, powerful angle that I never have seen, that no one has ever seen.