Why?

Force 7 Winds On An Atlantic Crossing
If you would know the age of the earth, look upon the sea in a storm.
The grayness of the whole immense surface, the wind furrows upon the
faces of the waves, the great masses of foam, tossed about and waving,
like matted white locks, give to the sea in a gale an appearance of
hoary age, lustreless, dull, without gleams, as though it had been
created before light itself.
Joseph Conrad “The Mirror of the Sea”

Watching Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the edges of space had us answering the question “Why?” to more than a few acquaintances.  Apparently we must be a bit off balanced for those close to us to assume we would have an answer.  But it’s a sound question.  Why?

Joe Kittinger’s historic jump from space.

Why do some of us feel the need to do something extraordinary?  What brings a person to the sharp point of thinking “I have to do this thing, or else….”.  Mallory’s old term “because it’s there” doesn’t get to the root.  Whats behind that thought?  “It’s there” could be applied to anything.  What happenings lead up to the point where the phrase marks a launching point of no return?

Crossing the Empty Quarter

Those that head out, far from the comforts of home, with hopes of sailing a new body of water, discovering a great range, or traversing a continent,  seem to do so for myriad reasons.  It’s easy to say that those that light out into the territory are running away from something, looking to find something better.  There is some truth to this.  Many of the great mountaineering feats and discoveries of our time depended on some significant life event as precursor.  A catalyst to light the fuse…  Years ago Michael Kennedy (editor of Climbing magazine) wrote an article describing the number of great routes that had been put up by the depressed, the disenfranchised, the heartbroken.  Indeed, the death of one close, divorce, and a broken heart appear to be high on the list of reasons for action.  As if the things that go with an adventure; continuous movement, a single mindedness, a deep exhaustion displace the ruminations of heartache at least for a short time.  Still, depending on the severity, the exaltation found at altitude, or on blue water quickly subsides and the mind races back to the things that darken the soul.  Many then get trapped in the cycle of planning the next adventure or succumbing to the deepest of depressions.

Alpinist’s Cemetery Chamonix

Then there are those not haunted by Churchill’s black dog of depression that simply move and explore for the sheer experience.  We often smirk and eyes are rolled  when we are told that so and so is off to “find himself”.  I tend to defend these people with a vengeance.  I cant think of a better way to understand oneself than by seeing how a stranger views us.  Surrounded by new faces, in a new land there is no past to be judged by.  Everything must be taken at face value.  Your actions and words are all that matters.  Tabula Rasa.  I think that perhaps this is one of the greatest things about setting off.  Not merely the opportunity to reinvent oneself.  It’s much more than that.  Its an opportunity to build on ones core.  To test oneself, and to ultimately better oneself.

Home Base on the Rio Negro

We are all seekers of something.  Why do you travel?  What is your prime mover? Why do you feel the need to create something extraordinary?

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