America is a nation of doers. I would say that this is equally our best and most dangerous quality. It’s an awesome part of our DNA because we are descended from a hearty stock of people that migrated to our country from all over the world (I realize some were slaves, indentured servants, and prisoners, but many of these people also struggled to forge a life in the new world despite the reasons that they were brought across on said journey). We see the images of these tough dudes and dudettes in Lewis and Clark like pictures that stretch across 2/3 of this country from Camp Dubois, Missouri, to Fort Clatsop, Oregon. We hear their tales in John Wesley Powell’s epic voyage down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon as his men mutinied in the face of the unknown as the 1-armed Civil War officer kept traveling to who the hell knows where (this ended up being the mouth of the Virgin River in the corner of Arizona / California / Nevada, and those guys who mutinied were later used for target practice by Native Americans).
Thinking of new places to explore fills our minds with excitement and joy. Living every day in the pursuit of pushing boundaries and overcoming obstacles fills our heads from the time we are little kids to adults. As my English teacher, Ron Borkert, used to say, every story is either a journey out or a journey in. I’m sure something exists to dispel that absolute (probably written by Jane Austen or the like), but I think that’s a fair accounting with evidence like Joseph Campbell’s Hero with 1,000 Faces as my evidence. At the very least, we’ve got Gilgamesh and Star Wars on our side.
That’s what life is: a journey to find stuff. Whether it’s a philosophy, an understanding, a cure for Parkinson’s disease, a hidden treasure, or a lover, we’re all looking for something (so I guess even Jane Austen has a little bit of Thor Heyderdahl in her). The question is what are we doing to find this? What danger are we risking? What’s holding us back? How is this an adventure as compared to just an ordinary trip to the mall to find something to wear at a party (but then again, a story like that could even be a journey if it involves a flat tire, lost credit card, meeting some sex-a potential love object, or getting caught in a food fight in the food court)?
But it’s all about the emotion and feeling. For an 8-year old kid, excitement is much different than for an adrenaline-fueled 19-year old teenager. The same could be said for a 30-year old, a 45-year old, or a 77-year old. Then again, if that 77-year old person is John Glenn, well then he’d put a whoopin’ on whatever the 19-year old kid did since Glenn went back into space at that point in his life. I guess it’s fair to say that Glenn is tough enough to earn Chuck Norris’s respect.
Thus adventure comes two ways. Either people are pushing themselves and the boundaries for a better tomorrow through their own heroism and adventure, kind of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark style since he saved the world from Nazis obtaining religious artifacts, or they’re pushing it out of an aggressive since of competition. There’s nothing wrong with either, in and of themselves, but this latter quality becomes dangerous with the Evel Knieval jerk mentality that went from daredevil to self-important jerk / thief / womanizer / self-destructive accident waiting to happen (then again, some of that other nonsense always was). And by accident, I don’t mean the Snake River. I’m talking about jail, money problems, divorce, fights, attitude, and driving away all of the people in his life with racially charged nonsense. Then again, it takes a majorly brave and equally stupid man to push an envelope that big solely for money and bragging rights when it's fueled on alcohol and extreme odds.
Was this a by-product of his profession?
I’d say no, but I think all of those things are a by-product of any quest for domination. In baseball, there’s a difference between winning and showing up pitchers. I have no problem with a bat-flip by Jose Bautista in the playoffs, but in game number 42 when a team is already up 8-3, watching the majestic track of a home run is just being a spoiled winner.
America seems to have plenty of those already. We definitely don’t need more.
However, we need more risks in exploration, innovation, philosophical thought, and adventure to go to new and better places, be they Mars or a future without fossil fuels. We need to push our limits, whatever they may be. We need to find our rewards and calculate our risk. We need to make our life count with its accomplishments. We need to follow the words of Edward Abbey to remember that, “A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches- that is the right and privilege of any free American.”
We need to listen to Jack London when he says, "I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."
We need to allow ourselves to be guided by Thoreau when he exclaims, "We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,- prepared to send back out embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father, mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again - if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk."
And we need to listen to the words of Jack Kerouac, putting aside the fact that he was always the passenger and never the driver when he furiously typed out, "They rushed down the street together, digging everything in that early way that they had, which later became so much sadder and perceptive and blank. But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’"
Because that’s what life is. We need to quest for happiness, both our own and that of other people. We need to see the sights and push ourselves further to help push mankind further. And just like Evel did, we do need to come back for a victory ride and slap high fives to our adoring public, but more importantly, we need to find heroes whose hands we can slap in this joy.
That’s what my dad, my brother in law Matt, and my nephew CJ did when we went to see motorcycle and ATV racing on ice. Yeah! It was as fun as it sounds. CJ gave the high fives, I shot the video, and we all watched in appreciation as young and middle-aged guys risked it all to get the rewards of their racing. Many of the races were pretty much determined from the position out of the gate, but stalling, skidding on fluffy snow, and competition did make things exciting as one race even went to a near-photo finish.
All in all, it wasn’t too expensive ($30 tops for a front row ticket), and it was a good family time together, which is also something that’s important in life. I can’t be sure if any of the kids will set out to go crazy on a 2, 3, or 4 wheeler, but after almost being knocked over so that kids behind me could give their gladiators mad props, I can say they were entertained and impressed to be more than just sedentary.
Quite honestly, that’s something we adults can appreciate a little more of in our own lives, too. As a 45-year old man, I know that I still have things to push myself to do, no matter what my fears are and no matter what my obstacles are. Even with the Parkinson's, it's too early for rust. It's time to live and be free in all that I do.
I hope you find this same freedom in your life, too! Kick off the rust and rigidity and find your own adventure, even if it's just a series of small steps to somewhere new or back to somewhere old and special.