A Cautious Adventurist

Winter, 1999. I’m sitting, or really, collapsing on the south face of Brundage Mountain, in McCall Idaho. My gloves have been haphazardly strewn several feet behind me, I’m freezing as tears flood my face-mask. I’m not hurt, not really, but by the looks of it, I warranted several worried inquires as fellow skiers and snowboarders passed by. Then again, I was in the middle of the trail-I knew I was making a scene. I unclip my board and anchored into the snow, burying my face into the sleeve of my ski-jacket. It wasn’t a bad spill, and besides, I was used to it-my fall to successful navigation ratio was near 1:1.  But I hated it, I hated the clamped feeling of anxiety knowing I might fall or lose control; speed was not my friend, it never has been. And yet here I was, headstrong and determined to be good at this despite every instinct to stay in the lodge. My Dad, ever patient stands near me, waiting for this “episode” to pass, he knows I’ll get over it, and how he stood there on more then a few occasions as I cursed at my snowboard and anything related is beyond me. But I get up, I finish, and slowly I get better. Not fly-down-the-mountain on a double black better, but easily navigate a blue, and that’s enough for me.

Ever since I was little, I was labeled, aptly, as “cautious.” I wanted so much to be good at all things outdoors, and relished in the company of my nearly all male friends. But within an adventuress spirit there was deep seeded fear. I hated speed, of careening down a mountain, or street, screaming in my head waiting for the moment I lost control and fell. And yet I carried on, why I’m still not certain. Perhaps I was curious, but more likely, I was angry that something could get the better of me, I hated anything that might suggest I wasn’t in control, and a fierce competitive spirit often pushed me beyond where I was comfortable. And subsequently left me pouting on the side of a mountain after, once again, letting fear take over. This feeling would never completely dissipate, it is still very much with me-though certainly more “in check.” At some point, my reasoning changed, I eventually lost my anger and developed a need for this sort of self-induced trial.

Whistler-2008. Apparently, there was some miscommunication. When asked if I had ever gone mountain biking, I said “yes.” After all, I owned (what I thought was) a mountain bike and had used it on trails. Not having grown up where this was a popular activity I was completely unaware of what it might actually entail. Alex, on the other hand was a seasoned biker and anxious to get on some of the world’s best tracks. Of course I would go with him. We hadn’t been dating all that long and I still felt that compulsion to impress and would never want him to think I was “such a girl.” As if that were a bad thing. And so, I geared up and rented a bike that weighed nearly as much as I did-or certainly, it felt like it did. The first run, my first time on what I learned was a real mountain bike would be a blue-intermediate. I was so clearly not such a rider. I managed to squelch a rising ominous feeling and rode on. As we round a single-track corner at a pace that likely irritated other riders I see what appears to be a several foot rocky drop. Alex already ahead of me fearlessly navigates the rocky terrain. I on the other hand, do not, I’m going probably way too slow and instead of utilizing momentum to get me down, and trusting the outrageously huge shocks my bike has I end up getting stuck midway and falling over my bike. As if that weren’t bad enough I find myself rolling down the mountain another 15 feet, ending up perched over a fallen log, my head inches away from a sharp rock. Also, apparently, I screamed, though I don’t remember it. My injuries ended up being a bad gash near my ankle and a bit of a headache. Not so bad. I don’t know why, but I get up, get down to the bottom and proceed, back to the top. Riding the ski-lift I’m petrified, and yet there I am, determined. I wouldn’t have said in the moment that I enjoyed it, but still I had to do it. And on the second run I manage to not fall. And it is worth it, all of it, for the perfect few seconds. Sailing down a steep drop leading to a table-top I let myself go, and as my bike lifts from the ground and the earth fall below my feet a silence follows. A deep, inexplicable calm comes over as if while suspended in the air, the rules of physics do not apply; I have taken control. The adrenalin rush makes the pulsing pain in my ankle disappear as my brain is flooded with beta-endorphins, the sort of chemical high that keeps adventurists and athletes alike in constant search of their next fix.

Though, fundamentally cautious I seek adventure at any opportunity. For one simple reason. In those times where I’m so physically exhausted that all I can do is concentrate on my breathing to get me to the summit, or I’m paddling with every ounce of energy to get through a rapid, my mind is silent. This is the most precious gift. My mind is constantly, relentlessly running. I am always thinking, analyzing, planning. Sometimes I can’t sleep. These momentary breaks where I simply cannot think provide such beautiful relief. Travel, similarly, is a perpetual break, I am able to be in the moment, to let the sun stream through my window, and soak my tired, silent mind as my fingers twist in time to the wind as the world flies by. This is my drug of choice. This is my addiction.

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