Since I had Friday off, I’m late posting last week’s Field Notes, which was about how hard it can be to come back indoors after even just a few fab nights and days in the glorious great outdoors.
Boulderite Ryan Waters — wait, I can’t just call him a Boulderite. Yes, Ryan lives in Boulder, but he’s a high-altitude mountain guide, and lately an Arctic and Antarctic adventurer. We met when I wrote about his record-breaking crossing of Antarctica earlier this year. I figured after spending 70 days in a tent in Antarctica, Ryan might have something interesting to say about transitions between outdoors and in.
He did. Some of it’s in my column, of course, but there wasn’t room there to share something Ryan told me he liked to read to new NOLS students when he was a director there. It comes from the book “The Last Step: The American Ascent of K2″ by Rick Ridgeway; it’s a letter expedition member Dianne Roberts wrote to her friend Suzanne. Ryan picked up the book at a NOLS basecamp, and some reader before him had written next to the letter, “this says it all.” Here’s the letter:
“A long climbing expedition is one of the few situations in modern life when you have the opportunity of really living on the edge, of pushing your physical and mental limits. Most of the time we are not required to come anywhere near those limits, and even if we want to, there are so many other comforts and temptations forcing us into an easier style, so we never learn where they are. There is value in knowing your limits, I mean really knowing from actual experience. For one thing, it eliminates a lot of guess work. I know I can survive in conditions that are marginal. I may never have to after this expedition, but having done it once, I know I can probably do it again. That knowledge eliminates a lot of low-level anxiety. If someone dumped me in the street in the clothes I’m wearing, I could somehow survive.”
“It also makes normal life easier. Relative to laying your life on the line getting down a m0uontain in a snowstorm, a case of the flu is pretty insignificant. After melting snow for water over dirty kerosene stoves that won’t work half the time, turning a faucet is a damn miracle.”
“I think most people’s limits are a lot farther on than they believe. Consequently, they live life holding themselves back for fear of sailing off the earth. Once you realize this — that you have more reserves than you’d imagined — you’re free to explore and experiment, to take risks — emotional, mental, and free to laugh at yourself when you fail (because in most of life, failure is not life-threatening, merely a learning experience) and relish the simplest of pleasures.”
“I don’t advocate everybody packing off to the Himalaya but I think it is good to do something that involves risk–preferably mental as well as physical–to push yourself beyond what is comfortable. To hell with the mentality that would build fences around every cliff, outlaw hang-gliding, put a hard-hat on every cyclist. Life itself is less precious than the ability and freedom to live life to its fullest.”