Monday, November 28, 2011

The Need for Adventure

Photo: Joel Wolpert

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking over the last few months about the need for adventure - both mine and in general.  Since completing the AT in July, there has been a void in my life.  Yes, after successfully completing a lifetime goal I found myself wondering, "So what now?"  People would congratulate me and say things like, "the adventure of a lifetime", leaving me with a depressed feeling and thoughts of "maybe that WAS the adventure of my lifetime - it's all downhill from here."  I experienced the worst case of post-race blues that I'd ever experienced.  The feelings went on for months.  Don't get me wrong, the AT was everything I hoped it would be, but life was no more clear-cut upon returning home than it was when I left.  Maybe even more hectic.  I had a sense of accomplishment and deep joy, yet I was restless.  My insatiable quest for adventure had been fed . . . but not quenched.

I had consciously planned to take some much-needed time to recover, both physically and mentally, and purposefully planned no racing or major adventures until at least the end of the year.  I took a few days off from running initially and seriously planned to take plenty more until I felt the time was right to resume training.  I quickly realized that I was not capable of this vital respite.  I really missed my daily adventures that I've only known through at least an hour of unviolated time alone; running.  Life as I had known it was flooding in and I needed my outlet.  Fast!  After only a few days, I was back out on the trails and roads hobbling along; longing for my days of "real living" on the Trail.  "What is wrong with me?", I introspectively asked.  "Am I really this selfish and needy? . . . what's with this compulsion, this need for adventure?", I further rhetorically implored.

This pondering has been mostly directed as to whether this personal compulsion to seek adventure is a self-serving desire that I've perpetuated, or something intrinsically deeper?  My opinion is leaning heavily toward the latter and I certainly think that I'm not alone in this sentiment.  You see, for many of us the mundane daily lifestyle that we unfortunately find a necessary part of being a "contributing part of society" yields an insufficient amount of adventure.  Somewhere between boyhood and adolescence, a young man's wild heart is squelched by the confines of the pragmatic world that we live in.  Games of King of the Hill, building forts, and searching for buried treasures are slowly traded in for logic, materialism, and status.  What if it's actually o.k. to be wild at heart?  What if that's actually how we're wired, but somewhere along the line the world rips the joy from our hearts?  I happen to believe that it's actually a God-given desire for men and women to seek adventure in this life.  We truly are designed to yearn for much more than the "9-5 materialism" and superficiality of this world.

I've stuck to my guns and I've been laying pretty low over the past few months.  I've been running with zero agenda aside from the pure joy and adventure that comes from cruising over some mountain single-track - albeit fairly slowly for the most part.  It's taken quite a while to get "right" after the Trail.  A surprising PR on a solo-run of the North Fork Mtn Tr a couple of weeks ago tells me that things are moving in the right direction.  I've learned that just because a major goal is reached, it doesn't mean that a sense of accomplishment will take the place of the desire for adventure that spurred the journey in the first place.  In many cases, the fire only burns brighter.  I've found that at the top of a mountain, there are only more mountains.

So as I approach 2012, I do so with much anticipation for adventures to come.

Enjoy a few pertinent quotes:

The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, "What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?" and my answer must at once be, "It is no use." There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.
~George Leigh Mallory, 1922

You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
~Rene Daumal

If the conquest of a great peak brings moments of exultation and bliss, which in the monotonous, materialistic existence of modern times nothing else can approach, it also presents great dangers. It is not the goal of grand alpinism to face peril, but it is one of the tests one must undergo to deserve the joy of rising for an instant above the state of crawling grubs. On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude.
~ Lionel Terray

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7

. . . and a good tune to leave you with from a band that one of my high school friends is part of.