A couple years ago, my friend Patrick heard about this guy, Dave Cornthwaite, who at the time was paddling a standup paddleboard the length of the Mississippi River as part of his Expedition 1000 project to complete 25 1,000-mile non-motorized journeys. He had the chance to go out and meet the expedition and canoe alongside them for a while, and Dave’s journeys and project inspired Patrick’s own 100+ Project as well as really added tinder to his adventure fire. I was intrigued. I followed along on twitter when Dave swam the length of the Missouri River and rode a bikecar from Memphis to Miami, I liked his message of saying yes to adventure; I bought the tshirt.
Meanwhile, Patrick started a series, Brave Endeavors, where local people who’ve done adventurous things give talks about their experiences. My teammates and I spoke about adventure racing, and I’ve been to amazing talks about running the Leadville 100 and riding a bike across the country. I love this series, and what it’s brought home to me more than anything is that regular people are doing really interesting things.
|Dave, Patrick, and Rod|
In a cool intersection of inspiration and opportunity, Dave and his like-minded friend Rod Wellington (whose Magnificent Seven Expedition will see him descending the longest river system on each continent from source to sea) were passing through our area with just enough time to be the feature act at the most recent edition of Brave Endeavors. I was super excited when Patrick told me they’d be speaking, enough to brave squeezing into my “Say Yes More” tshirt (suffice it to say that a European women’s large and an American women’s large are not the same, so it’s a good thing I’ve lost weight recently) for the occasion.
I could have listened to those guys talk all night. Rod’s pictures and stories from cross-country (Canada and Australia) bike trips only added fuel to my bicycle adventure fire, and seeing/hearing about his descents of different river systems made me slightly reconsider my anti-paddling stance.
|Rod talking about his adventures.
Photo credit: Dave Cornthwaite
Dave’s talk really resonated with me too. Some of his expeditions sound a little crazy (across Australia by skateboard, from Memphis to Miami by bikecar, paddleboarding or swimming down a river) until you’re hearing the stories and looking at the pictures and feeling this huge hunger for adventure welling up inside you. It also made me so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had in the past years to do really cool stuff and determined to keep saying yes instead of the “no” I hid behind for a long time.
No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.
I think about a couple of the “questionable” things I’ve said yes to and how they’ve enriched my life, and it’s hard to dispute the value of the affirmative:
- Taking up mountain biking even though I’m a huge wimp and afraid of everything.
- Driving 2.5 hours to spend a day alone in the woods with a bunch of strange guys I’d barely/never met.
- Tackling a 200-mile bike race on less than a month of training (and no appropriate bike)?
The epic doesn’t come easy, and some of these decisions have been accompanied by tears and injuries (and, in the case of the middle one, a very scary sleep-deprived drive home), but they’ve led to friendships and experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.
You keep going on about adventure…Adventure is no more than discomfort and annoyance recollected in the safety of reminiscence. (From The Journeyer, by Gary Jennings)
While it may be true that parts of adventure are more fun in retrospect than when you’re knee-deep, every struggle is a deposit in your memory bank. So much of in our “real lives” feature manufactured stress — which brand to buy, whose turn is it to fold the laundry, what’s the right way to hang the toilet paper (over the roll, most definitely) — and we blanket ourselves in comfort until opportunities to face physical challenges are rare.
We rarely do ourselves justice. (Dave Cornthwaite, in his book Life in the Slow Lane)
It’s a shame, too, because challenge enriches and refines. Dave showed a picture of his pre-Expedition 1000 self, sprawled out on two sofa-sized bean bags playing video games. It’s hard to imagine a bigger contrast than between his past and current selves. You probably wouldn’t even notice the video game guy if he was standing (more likely sitting) in front of you, but you couldn’t miss the man we met. He was full of passion and excitement for what he does and…I can say this because I’ve been happily married forever…he was kind of hot. I wouldn’t have recognized him from his old picture: proof that happiness and purpose are the best kind of makeover.
I see that in myself, too. Other than my wedding pictures and our most recent family pictures, some of my very favorite pictures of myself come from racing and training. I may be freezing/sweating/filthy/exhausted, but I’m typically smiling or laughing and having fun, and that shines through the dirt.
|Collage from 2013 Thunder Rolls, without doubt the stinkiest, dirtiest, and grossest I’ve ever been.|
I’m not going to pretend that I’m suddenly ready to agree to any crazy scheme; you aren’t going to catch me bungee jumping or skydiving any time soon, because while both of those things scare me, neither of them calls to me. But it’s reminded me of the value of experiences over possessions and made me more determined to go after things that I want to do. And maybe I won’t be quite so quick to rule out paddling trips with friends. (Maybe)