We went to Scotland with a couple of our best friends this weekend (always recommended). It was rainy and cold, and we were all pretty exhausted but Rich and I still found ourselves talking about adventure, as we nursed cups of tea and coffee and stared out at the grey drizzle first thing in the morning. Rich had been reflecting and had realised that so many of his high moments, or as Sheldon Vanauken calls them “moments made eternity,” had been in the midst of adventures. We talked about how easy it is to let those moments go, in the subconscious pursuit of ease, in the thrust of the urban everyday, in the busyness of weekly commitments – and he shared how he had made a decision to continually reinstate adventure as part of day-to-day life, despite the obstacles to doing so. It’s always easier not to pursue, we decided, yet nearly always worth it to pursue.
I want to be the kind of person whose life is full of outdoor adventures. You know the type – the people whose dinner table stories start with “Well, we had decided to take our bikes off road…,” the people who suddenly say, “The stars are out! Let’s go and lie on the beach!” (and they know where to go), the people who invite you to stay for the weekend and it includes an invitation to a canoe trip through spectacular scenery, the people whose memories include magical unexpected encounters with strangers, and timeless romantic moments on a boat at sunset watching the dolphins play. I want to be a person who can throw a tent in the back of the car and go camping spontaneously. I want more moments teaching my godkids how to make and manage a fire. I want to be good enough at fishing to catch my own dinner.
The problem is, it’s almost always a hassle, with a cost attached. I remember the first time it really struck me that this is the case even for the people who seem at ease with frequent adventuring and really know what they’re doing (you know, the got-the-kit guys). We were staying with friends, lazing around on a Sunday afternoon, reading magazines and chatting half-heartedly about going out fishing. One of my closest and oldest friends, who has been Mr. I-Love-Fishing for as long as I’ve known him, swung in the living room hammock, disinclined to move a muscle. We weren’t really tired, but were feeling lethargic and though no one said it, you could almost hear the consensus:”I want to be out on the water, but wouldn’t that mean getting up off this sofa? I’d really love to eat fish tonight, but wouldn’t that mean cleaning rods and lines and gutting and de-scaling?” It all just felt like so much effort. It seemed easier not to. It was easier not to. But then he sat up, with resolve. “You know what, guys? I’ve always wanted to be a person who does cool stuff, and here’s the deal: the people who do stuff are the people who do stuff. It’s always easier not to.”
The people who do stuff are the people who do stuff.
It’s simple, tautological, but also true! You aren’t an adventurer because you suddenly find a way to experience hassle-free camping, or mountain biking, or fishing. You’re an adventurer because you go out camping, or biking, or fishing even when it is hassle, even when it would be easier not to. You become an adventurer by adventuring. I mean, sure, if you’ve got the money and the time you can plan an epic, year-long adventure full of write-home experiences that will blow your mind and change your life, but even then, as Tim Cahill so rightly says, much of your adventure won’t feel like adventure at the time.
“An adventure is never an adventure when it happens. An adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquillity.” – Tim Cahill
If you’ve got the time and money to blow on weeks or months of physical and emotional discomfort, I can’t recommend it enough. You will undoubtedly remember those monotonous train journeys and confused conversations in a foreign language as adventure.
What about the rest of us though? Does adventuring stop where office hours begin? I don’t believe it does. I believe you’ve just got to be willing to put in the effort on a day-to-day basis – an evening here, a bank holiday there.
We did that this bank holiday weekend. I don’t know how the fishing conversation came up again, but it did. It would have easy to let it go – we didn’t have the kit, none of us are any good at fishing, we didn’t have a permit, it was raining, and we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on lessons – but true to his commitment Rich did something else. He googled fly fishing lessons, since he had done fly fishing a couple times before. No joy – it was a bank holiday weekend, and too expensive anyway. He googled fishing permits for the river nearest us. It was a Sunday, but it looked like you could book a permit online. We searched for shops where we could buy a rod, but they were closed of course. “Well,” we told each other, “they might be open tomorrow – it’s worth a try.” The next morning we called a shop – closed. We tried another – closed. We tried a third: jackpot, they were open and had one fly fishing rod in stock, about twenty minutes drive away. We drove in and talked to the owner, who was willing to tell us what else we needed and throw it all in for the price of the rod. Bingo. Next, a permit. The fishing shop sold permits but didn’t recommend we buy one for the river, after all the rain the night before. “You could try Jericho” he suggested and gave us directions to a near-ish loch, so off we drove on a loch-chase. We found it eventually, and spoke to the guy in charge. “A permit is really only for one rod” he told us, “but you could take turn-abouts if you’d like.”
Next it was home again, to set up the rod, watch some online videos on technique and image-search the types of fish we were allowed to keep and those we had to throw back. Once we were ready, we all piled in with our packed lunch, picnic blankets, thermos and single rod to head to the loch. The sun had come out and we had at least three hours before we had to head home. Soon, we were standing on the side of a loch watching long-time fisherman cast in beautiful arcs and struggling one at a time to emulate them ourselves. Friendly fishermen passed by asking if we’d had any luck, to which we honestly replied that our technique wasn’t really up to actually catching fish (yet)! One of them stopped and gave us some tips. The more we talked, the more involved he got. “There should be people to teach you the basics,” he told us with passion, “You’re the future!” He checked out our rod, and corrected our set up. He moved us around to a better spot, pointing out where the underwater weeds were. He asked us what fly we were using, and told us to change it immediately. “I’ve got over a thousand flies at home” he told us enthusiastically, as he offered us one of his own to practice with. “The fish know,” he confided conspiratorially, “when they’re biting on something, they’re biting. You watch.” We cast and retrieved, cast and retrieved, and under his expert supervision we finally got the feel of it, found a rhythm. One at a time we cast, watching the line arc in the sunshine, until it was time to head home.
We didn’t catch a fish. We would have, of course, if we’d had long enough. Of course we would! We didn’t catch our dinner, but we did go fishing. Was it a hassle? Was it an effort? Totally – it would have been far easier to talk ourselves out of it and go for a walk instead. Was it worth it? Totally.
It’s not always worth it each and every time. Last time we went stargazing, we ended up on the top of a hill in horizontal driving rain at 2am, exhausted and wet. It was fun, in it’s own way, but it wasn’t quite the plan. Yet, as Sophie rightly reminded me, you’ve got to have the rainy discomfort to get the magical moments. Sometimes you’ll remember those moments, once you’re warm and dry, as bonding adventures. Other times, you’ll just cringe and hope you don’t get rained out again, but if you keep making the effort, keep accepting the hassle, and keep putting yourself out there, you’ll get the moments that make it worth it all. You’ll round a corner and find dolphins playing the waves. You’ll unzip your tent just in time to see shooting stars. You’ll be swimming among phosphorescence. You’ll have an owl fly within inches of your canoe. You’ll wonder how life can be so piercingly beautiful and you’ll know it was worth it all.
Photos in post by Rachel Hughes Shah
Featured photo by Pixabay user Steve Buissinne