Well maybe not dead, but nowdays it’s more limited to victims of war and disaster. This in no way lessens their despair and struggle for survival, but epitomizes the rare qualities exhibited by true adventure. It happens during the course of our nominally uneventful lives when suddenly our reality is upended and we are forced to make decisions we are unaccustomed to making; like surviving the next few minutes, hours, or days that have nothing to do with business, status, or your portfolio.
Whether it is water rising too fast to escape or the world falling down around you, this is some thing you did not pay to experience. True adventure will leave you spent, in pain, broken and bleeding, if not dying. There are few enough who are willing to pay the full cost of the ticket. But to those that do, goes the real prize. You see the price is your life.
Several years ago my friend Kale and I rode cross-country on motorcycles. A priceless experience not without its moments when shivers went up your spine as adventure licked your tires. My excuse for this was to crash my nephew’s wedding and see some family faces. I must say, at this point, that rolling into a wedding reception on a touring motorcycle and one piece riding suit is about as cool as it gets.
After making the rounds I settled in next to my mom for the duration. It was her I really came for after all. It was nice. I love my mom. The seats around the center table filled and emptied like cards shuffling. At one point a gentleman across the table began a conversation. He was the father of the bride, I think, but a close relation at any rate. I introduced myself as the brother of the mother of the groom. For convenience I will call him Chuck.
“Ahh, I’ve heard a lot about you,” Chuck said as if he heard not quite a lot, but more than a little.
“I hope it wasn’t all bad,” was my glib response. You see I am the black sheep.
“Not at all, you’re the adventurous one,” Chuck smiled.
Okay he had me and we had a pleasant talk about a few my ‘adventures’, the bulk of which revolved around the books I am writing. I gave him a signed copy of my first book, asking that he get in touch after reading it. He never did. This came as no surprise. Although my books have a solid foundation of honor, a man’s word and the golden rule, I have a rather peculiar way of getting there. Not everyone is ready for what I have to say or how I say it. To each his/her own in their own time. I would have liked to hear his views though. C’est la vie. Now where was I? Oh yeah, ‘the adventurous one’.
When I think of my travels and the work I’ve done, the word adventurous does not come to mind. Hard, unforgiving, perilous, dangerous, and stupid do however, and I have the scars to prove it. But adventurous? In retrospect I suppose, maybe, but I never really considered it. At the time you were too busy busting your ass, saving it, or saving somebody else’s. Afterwards you were too tired, in too much pain to appreciate it and onto another job. You never gave it a second thought. You lived it, you didn’t think it.
When you’re in an adventurous situation you do not think to yourself, ‘Wow, this is soooo exciting, what a rush!’ It’s more like ‘Holy shit! Look out! Run! Help!’ Maybe later you laugh about it. That is if no one was hurt too bad. But when no one is looking you’re busy checking your shorts.
Most of the ‘adventurous’ things I’ve done were not done for the excitement involved. They were done to cover the cost of living, a job. The work just looks and sounds thrilling. The reality was it was simply hard work with one drawback; fuck up and you’re dead. There aren’t too many jobs out there with that kind of kicker. Plus, at the time, I was young, still invincible, only dimly aware of the dangers involved and kept it that way. Oh you knew about them, but you didn’t spend much time thinking about them. Because once you did it was the beginning of the end of adventure for you, my friend. We didn’t take risks without knowing the danger, for that is being a fool. We just disregarded them. There were bills to pay, a job to finish and another soon to begin.
I think all people, somewhere inside them yearn for adventure. The common dream being cataclysmic destruction wherein our lives are irrevocably changed and not necessarily for the better. But we become better or worse for it. Yeah we’d all like that one, but it will never happen, at least not the way we dream it to be. The earthquakes, tornadoes, and tsunamis in recent years are but isolated occurrences, a sampler of what it would be like and most certainly less desirable than the dream. Reality generally is. But your average life is far more mundane than that. It grinds away at you every day until you die unless you are thrust into circumstances beyond your control. In which case you will probably still become extinct, but for a short while will have truly lived.
There aren’t that many ways of life left in the first world that have a first-rate access to risky, life-threatening work. A few, fewer yet are those willing to actually do the work.
When a person’s thirst for adventure is not allowed to be slaked, we will search for ways to compensate the loss. The most common is vicarious, a.k.a. movies, documentaries, reading or the virtual world as methods of escape into the rush of living. Doing nothing to feel like you’ve done something. Ironic, huh?
For others the compensation comes in the form of physical activities. Sports like tennis, skiing, diving, that require good physical conditioning to do well. Then there are the races. Ironman, marathons, bicycles, where top physical condition is the rule, not the exception. These exhibitions of strength and stamina are incredible and satisfy the inner need through endurance. Endurance equals adventure in that respect, for that is what adventure is, enduring.
Then there are those who, after riding a desk for the last thirty or forty years still have the romantic desire and reasonable health to have a little adventure. (We all know that if you put yourself in a position where your life may at some point be at risk, it just might be. In other words, if you want an irritating itch it’s best to find some poison ivy.) The youth is past its prime but the desire not so, and they stayed reasonably fit. So they decide to travel to places with names that evoke danger, grandeur, and mystery. Everyone wants to be the Rolex person on the inside cover of the Smithsonian.
What they get is a slightly watered down version of what its like and way more comfortable. The entire tour is prearranged with a top quality outfitter that has an excellent reputation of bringing them back alive. Everything has been well planned and nothing is left to chance. Of course the tourists know this, but that is not the point. The illusion has been satisfied. All life is illusion so no doubt special health insurance was bought in case the illusion gets a little too real, as well as supplementary insurance in case you had bad weather. Dressed to the tens in the latest gear, you exit your first class seating and are hit by the smells of life. Before you get too enthralled you are whisked away to a 5 star and a coldie.
Now you’re in the third word – well the part that the white man is allowed to see anyway.
This isn’t going to turn into an essay on tourist bashing. Far from it. Regardless of how much insurance you have to protect you and your travels, once you cross the border you’re in another world. All the protection money can buy will not put a first class hospital in the middle of the Sudan for you if your appendix bursts. When your transportation breaks down in the rainforest highlands there is no auto club to come and get you. Your feet have just become more important than ever before. You gear up and start to follow the other stranded travelers taking your first steps along the road to getting the hell out of there.
Not that anything like that would happen, but it could and does. In the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia some twenty-five years ago, we were on a twenty passenger second-class bus going from one mold encrusted Raj era tea plantation to another. We were traveling with the local people like we always did. It saved money over the first class ride on a real road with a bus full of tourists and was always much more interesting. About the time we reached the vicinity of the middle of nowhere the old Mercedes chugs, craps out and dies.
A heavy damp rain had begun an hour before as we drove higher into the mountains. The once dry road was now mud with trails of brown water racing through in rivulets. The landscape looked as if it had never seen the sun shine, a sodden rot of grayish deep green. After a few minutes of conversation that we didn’t understand fully, the van began to empty and belongings removed from the lashings atop it. Our bags were thrown with the rest into the brush along the roadside. As near as we were able to glom, the passengers were heading on. Another bus would be sent once it was sure that this one did not arrive. How long? A shrug of the shoulders was the only reply.
We talked about the options for this is a potentially fucked up situation. You’re in a third world country, white, all your money is around your waist, what insurance, the sun is setting, and you really have no idea where you are. Strange things can happen when the sun goes down and your imagination takes over. Should we stay or should we go? Sit in a damp bus waiting or follow the herd and hope we find someplace to stay and something to eat. Having turned a wrench a few times I figured well, it’s either major mechanical, in which case we’re fucked and in for a long walk in the rain, or maybe it’s something simple. It wouldn’t take long to figure out. If the bus was doomed we could always catch up.
The driver, who of course was staying with his rig, went through the motions of poor communication as we went down a basic check out. We soon discovered the accelerator linkage was broken. Pair of vice-grips, adjustable wrench, multipurpose screwdriver, and some wire was all it took to MacGyver the works, and of course someone who was willing to get all greasy and muddy, busting a few knuckles while crawling around underneath the bus to do it.
We picked up the stragglers first followed shortly thereafter by a bunch of smiling faces who were as happy as us to get out of the rain and where we all were going. The perk was the look on their faces when they saw a filthy white couple smiling at them from the back of the bus. Talk about making some points! It was a mild adventure but nonetheless had all the requirements for a true experience. A situation presents itself inspiring the question, what do we do? From that moment on our actions were dictated by the predicament and to make the best of it.
All adventures pretty much go that way. When everything goes just the way it’s planned there is no adventure. A good time perhaps with nice people just like yourself getting a taste of the wild. But it’s not the tourists that get the true adventure. It is the guides and laborers who live the safari, or roundup that truly live the life. The rest have merely paid to experience it.
It is when all hell breaks loose that the adventure starts. The working staff kicks into overdrive to save the tourists who are too busy worrying about their stuff and complaining that this is not what they paid for. Adventure is not something that is paid for. You may hire someone to take you to breathtaking vistas, but have something happen out of your control that rips your breath from you and the next person you are hiring is a lawyer.
Adventure is for those who choose to live it. Life choices and circumstance can put you in the game or out of it. Age, unfortunately, is a major factor. Those of us who left the tour behind long ago and forged our own way have paid the price of our yearnings with bodies worn out from a lifetime of hard living. Eventually we become sidelined while the adventure goes on, leaving us behind with our memories and sore backs that can no longer bear the load. We have become out of the loop, an observer.
This realization comes with a brutal blow to who we are, what we were and what we have become. I call this the Hemingway syndrome. That period from when you stop being a player until you come to terms with your new reality. It is a time change from relevancy to obscurity. Some of us will accept it, eventually. Others will struggle with the dilemma, while others refuse to let go. This in itself is an adventure of sorts. Except this time the battle is an inner one. We will come to terms with it gracefully… or not as is usually the case.
My personal learning curve was hard and ugly. I didn’t let go. Life was torn from my grasp and left me crippled. It took a long time to learn to be thankful for every ache, pain, and disability and see each one as a memory.
So the next time your car dies on a lonely stretch of dark road, or a storm, or other kind of adverse conditions present themselves realize it is an opportunity to take life into your own hands and do something with it. This does not mean picking up your cell phone either and letting drama overwhelm the moment. Take charge, take control of what you can and make the best of it. Take a lousy unplanned event and put a positive spin on it. It’s all any adventurist does anyway.
Aloha my friends. Good luck, do your best, it will be enough.