Adventure is something I know I’m passionate about, I can feel myself get animated when I talk about it. It inspires me, motivates me, makes me laugh, smile or even cry when I see people affected by it. Looking back when it’s not in my life I feel unhappy, dissatisfied and ill at ease with myself although I often wont realise that’s what the probable cause is at the time.
I’ve never been much of a writer but generating the posts on this blog has been really interesting and now, for some reason, I feel a need to write about my thoughts on adventure. Not quite sure where this will go, where it will end or how it will be recieved (if I press the publish button of course). Guess its just a different kind of adventure! Let me know what you think in the comments at the end please 🙂
In my world as a climber, kayaker, canoeist, mountain biker, snowboarder and outdoor instructor and traveller the word “adventure” is used all over the place. But what is it exactly? What does it mean to me personally and why do I consider it so important to me?
http://www.dictionary.com gives this meaning:
ad·ven·ture- [ad-ven-cher], verb, -tured, -tur·ing.
None of the above quite define adventure as I see it but then again I’ve never been one for the short answer :-S
There are words there though that are key to what I think adventure is. Words like exciting, experience, risky and, most importantly I think, uncertain.
For me an adventure is all about uncertainty. Its about not being sure you can complete the task, not being sure if you’ll succeed or fail, not being sure of the way, not being sure if you’ll get away with not getting a scuffing. Starting an adventure or being adventurous is all about trying something you don’t know if you can finish. Ideally it combines some or all the other elements too. Excitement, that feeling of your mind quickening to cope with the situation. Experience, the feeling of being aware of the environment around you. And risk, when this is present it tends to be the driver for the bodies release of chemicals that cause the quickening we know as excitement.
When the mix of these different interconnected factors is right it can lead, in the participants, to a feeling of being completely alive and afterwards a feeling, for a bit at least, of being satiated, of being at peace.
Get the mix wrong and it can feel very negative but in 2 different ways. If unsuccessful it can leave participants broken mentally and/or physically. If success comes to easily the adventure can leave participants feeling very dissatisfied and unfulfilled, completely the opposite of the feelings they were chasing!!
Many of the different games I play and have played over time are called adventurous activities. They’ve been part of my life since I started kayaking in the scouts when I was 10 and have been part of my working life since I started working as a canoeing instructor at an outdoor holiday camp when I was 18. What’s interesting is the different ways the different games are adventurous.
Lets look at climbing as it’s the one that, to those who don’t get it, can seem the most reckless of the various games. Maybe it is! High profile climbers feature in the worlds media occasionally when someone is killed on the hill and I’ve lost 4 close friends in climbing accidents. I remember very distinctly the day after Tim’s funeral, as I was driving out of Betws on the way to go climbing in the Pass, thinking just how daft this may seem. There I was, the day after the funeral of a good friend who’d been killed in a mountain accident, heading out climbing myself. As I thought about this, what I was doing and the emotions of the previous day/week I came to a very simple conclusion and realisation. 1- That my friends are really important to me and 2- so is climbing.
Climbing is arguably the perfect adventurous activity. It has many different facets from climbing walls (not really adventurous in the true sense as too much is sanitised) through bouldering, sport, traditional, alpine, big wall, ice, mixed to mountaineering in the greater ranges. These different facets and the environments they take place in allow climbers to try to dial in the level of adventure they are striving for. See for a climber, in my experience, nirvana is the climb they just make it up, the climb that is at the very limits of their physical, technical and mental capabilities, one that leaves them tested to their very limits but successful.
Talk to climbers in the pub after a days climbing and the ones that say they have had an awesome adventure will be the ones who have tested themselves to the very limit. Its interesting how they are likely to have gone about it though. Its very very very unlikely there will have been anything reckless about the under taking, in fact there will have been a fair amount of planning. Big days for climbers often come after success on a route they’ve been aspiring to for a long time. They’ll have read guidebooks, talked to friends who’ve done the route for beta (but not too much because they won’t want to have too much info as it ruins the experience), planned the day and the person they’ll have climbed with. Kit needs sorting and packing and the climb needs getting to. All this is part of the adventure.
Climbing is a complete experience, physically your muscles work, you feel the warmth of the sun on your face or the spindrift going down the back of your neck. You feel connected to the environment as you touch the rock and assess where the route goes, where the rock is strong enough to provide placements for gear and where is not. You’re likely to be very close to your climbing partner on belays as space is often tight.
There is lots of risk to manage. Climbers don’t tend to be reckless although it may seem like it to the uninitiated. There is a saying “there are old climbers and there are bold climbers but there are very few old bold climbers!” Climbers go through a natural apprenticeship as they get into the sport and during this time they work their way through various stages learning the ropes as they go. A big part of this is learning the risks, how evaluate them, understand them and reduce them to an acceptable level.
The risk is what generates excitement though. Interestingly, according to a episode of Fitz Cahall’s most excellent Dirtbag Diaries, its not about adrenaline but noradrenaline. As we all know, when we are scared our bodies produce adrenaline to assist in our fight or flight mechanisms. Adrenaline quickly opens up veins and arteries to enable blood carrying oxygen to get to the muscles we are about to use quickly as well as speeding up our brains ready for fight or flight but importantly NOT THOUGHT. The story in the podcast was about an experiment where a team of scientists put a group of people in a room and then without telling them scared the shit out of them while measuring their chemical reaction. Their bodies produced adrenaline and they reacted by fighting or flighting but with a reduced ability for rational thought. Makes sense rational thought doesn’t come into in when you just need to run for your life, any action is better than none. When the scientists conducted the test and warned the people in the room they were going to be scared shitless immediately their bodies produced noradenaline which had a similar effect to adrenaline but with one significant and important difference. The blood flow was improved allowing for the increased physical performance that was going to be needed and the brain speeded up but not to the point where rational thought was hindered just enhanced. Those being tested apparently where still scared by the test scenario but where able to tackle the situation rather than just run for their lives or fight to the death!!
So it turns out its noradrenaline junkies we should be talking about. These people aren’t the Pepsi Max guzzling fools the advertisers would have you think they are. They are people who are addicted to the feeling of the heightened awareness and physicality that being exposed to risk brings.
Lastly we come to the nirvana for the climber and its a simple one. Its that feeling you get when you reach the top of something that has tested you to the limit. As you yard up the finishing jugs, as you take the last few steps to the summit or as you pull yourself over the lip onto easy ground if its been difficult enough, if you’ve just made it the sense of elation is euphoric. Very few experiences I know can give you that feeling. It makes me smile to myself now thinking about how it feels, god it feels great.
All the so called adventurous activities can give participants this feeling. Mountain biking fast down a section of flowing single track feels fantastic, running a river that fully tests the team of paddlers or undertaking a journey in a country where your not quite sure where your going or what will happen along the way or what exactly you’ll find at your destination.
Maybe it will hurt, maybe it will lead to failure, maybe it will just be a bit crap.
Maybe it will be fucking brilliant again and again and again 😀