Milepost 3-18-14 Fillmore, California
“I can’t move my legs,” my friend whispered in the pitch black darkness as he slipped into unconsciousness. We were teetering on the face of a steep mountain in the Sierra Madres of Mexico where Marc had just tumbled head over heels 90 feet down a rough slope, his balance thrown off by the overloaded backpack. It didn’t help that there were only three flashlights for 15 hikers; because of delays, we had been caught on the mountain after dark, something that our guide hadn’t prepared us for. Our efforts for the next hour proved to make the difference between life and death; not to worry, Marc lived. And he recovered quickly over the next few days, having no broken bones and no lasting injuries.
That was a bit more adventure than I had counted on when I organized this trek for a group of young summer missionaries. Marc’s fall caused him no small amount of trauma and an equal amount of stress for me and the rest of the trekkers.
And that’s the risk one takes when he signs on for an adventure.
Most Americans never have such a scary experience, because most do not sign on for much adventure at all. For many, their most risky experience is the morning commute to the job in the city. Mind you, it can be stressful too, but is hardly ever an adventure.
The American dream is a comfortable one and not very adventurous. Most of us spend our summer weekends on the backyard patio with a steak on the grill and a cold drink in hand. We don’t paddle any whitewater or jump off any cliffs. And that’s how we like it. No adventure, no risk, and no worries. Mind you, for some, that is the best thing.
But there are others who become restless if they haven’t had the crap scared out of them a time or two within the last six months. They get cabin fever when the winter is too long, and they start dreaming of tents, sleeping bags and the latest climbing gear.
I’m not sure if it is personality that makes the difference, or if family history is a more profound ingredient in the adventure quotient. My dad was a camper and loved to take the family on an adventure every summer. Some of his kids are the same way, but not all of us.
On the other hand, my three kids are all adventurers and world travelers. I give partial credit to an extended adventure that I took the family on in the middle of my small-town teaching career. Taking a one-year leave-of-absence, we moved to an underdeveloped country in the Caribbean where Kaye and I taught in an international school. We lived in an indigenous neighborhood where we were isolated from other Americans. This experience changed our family forever. The adventure factor has run strong in all of us ever since.
Are you a restless adventurer? Do you get frustrated when you spend more time punching a time clock than kicking through the gears on a motorcycle? Do you live for the weekends? Have you applied the risk-reward ratio to your financial portfolio but never to the balance of comfort and adventure in your life?
Maybe it’s time for a change – If you feel that you need more excitement in your life. If you are young, you might want to take this into consideration when you are choosing your career. At 17 years old, I chose teaching partly because of the long summer vacations. I knew myself well enough to know that I would not be happy with only the two weeks off every year that my friends who went to the auto assembly plant would get. They made a lot more money – I had a lot more fun.
And it was a wise decision, because I eventually became the adventure trips planner for our local church youth group and found myself in all kinds of exciting locations over the next 35 years.
I had teams of 13-year-olds squeezing through wild caves in southern Indiana, groups of boys lost at night on the sand dunes by Lake Michigan (just because their group leader was an Eagle scout didn’t mean he had earned the badge for orienteering).
I have been skinny-dipping with friends in the middle of the nighttime bioluminescence of the Indian Ocean – green sparks exploding in the water with every movement. I’ve crashed a motorcycle on the most winding two-lane road in Michigan (my only broken bone ever), and rafted the whitewater of the Ocoee River in the mountains of Tennessee – the same river used for the kayak races in the 1996 summer olympics.
And now I’m living on the road in an RV with my life-long companion as we explore the backroads of America. And Kaye and I are gearing up for the ultimate road trip this summer, the Alaska Highway, with a pickup and a fifth-wheel.
When our appetite for risk and adventure is satisfied, we pull into an RV park or a friend’s backyard, and we stay a while. We fuel up our comfort-and-safety quotient for a while until we start to get restless again and long for the open road. A couple of months is just about the perfect duration for us to stay in one place.
The adventure appetite runs pretty strong with us right now. Age and failing health will park us someday, but for now we plan to git while the gittin’s good.
How about you? Do you have your summer planned full of adventures yet? What about the rest of your life? Are you assigning enough risk to satisfy your adventure quotient?
Don’t get me wrong, adventure is not for everybody. It depends on your appetite for risk. If you don’t have it, you are fine to enjoy the security of a comfortable and stress-free life in America.
But, if you are increasingly restless and keep gazing out the window of your office or your kitchen, it’s possible that the adrenaline runs stronger in your veins than you thought. And maybe you should do something about it. Increase the risk factor. Dive into the next adventure.
Okay, so maybe too much adventure can be deadly, but a more common tragedy is the slow death of dreams and bucket lists while we safely watch the grass grow in our comfortable back yards, the regretful long-term product of too much comfort and security.
For your own well-being, maybe you should get some adrenaline going on this summer. Have fun. And be safe.