It’s a big fucking mountain. It’s no Everest, true, but Mount Robson is the highest Canadian Rocky. So it’s big. Not that we were climbing it, of course, but we would be walking around it. And gaining a fair bit of elevation in the process.
I love back-country hiking, and I’ve done lots of it. Though not for five or six years. And not after working a nightshift. What was I thinking, scheduling an 11 km leg of a 40 km hike immediately after coming off nights? Oh yeah, I know the answer- I wasn't thinking at all.
That was last week. I survived. It was fun. It was hell. It was amazing. Can't wait to do it again.
Earlier this summer in Jamaica I got a chance to go scuba diving for the first time in eleven years. One time the VampireNomad and I were in Malaysia with nothing much to do so we took a diving course, got all PADI certified. Then I returned to my exceptionally land-locked city and carried on with my life. Despite my vigilance, during the past decade not a single occasion arose wherein I needed to don an emergency BCD and scuba dive into the river to save a small child or something. Over the years, I slowly forgot some of my training. Like what BCD stands for.
Actually I totally remembered Buoyancy Control Device. But the acronym for readiness that you use with your buddy? For me and the VampireNomad it had something to do, shocker, with Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Boromir and the Ring. Something something. That's about all I could recall.
So in Jamaica I decided I could go for a refresher course.
After a half hour in a shallow resort pool my PADI certs were deemed 100%! Off we go!
I tried ignoring the voice in the back of my brain that kept saying "But actually we still have a few questions..."
SPLASH! DIVING! SCUBA!
Let me skip to the end of the story quickly and say it was wonderful and nothing bad happened and everyone lived happily ever after and I love diving and I can't wait to do it again.
For a few minutes I panicked. I was hyperventilating, which of course is not a good idea when you are carrying all of your oxygen in a small tank on your back and you are inside the ocean.
"FUCK THIS," my body was saying. "I'm out of here!"
And it was up to my brain to assert command and get the situation under control. I had to engage in self-talk, which sounds silly but for real, it's what I had to do. "Stop it, Waddell. You have this. You know what you are doing. Control your breathing. Yes. Nice and easy. Okay. Remember your training. Blow bubbles. Equalize pressure. Give your BCD a little shot of oxygen. Alright. Deeper." And so forth. It didn't take long, and I was having a great time, like I said. One other time during the dive, when the current kept trying to rip the regulator out of my mouth my body once again tried to mutiny but I kept that shit locked.
You have to, because ready or not, life is lifing away all around you. Yes, lifing. That is what is happening. Right now.
I could end this right here. "Look I had some adventures! You can too! Go do it now! Rah rah rah!" But that isn't very interesting. And anyways, the adventurous types don't really need me to tell them anything. They're likely too busy adventuring to read this. Not all, of course. But some.
I'd like to address those of you who aren't out there. Who, like me, maybe have a touch of anxiety. Those of you who feel like maybe they're not ready. All I ever feel ready for is a nap, for the most part.
There's a concept in fiction writing called the Inciting Incident. Your hero, Frodo Baggins or Luke Skywalker or whoever, is living a normal life, maybe even a bit dull. Maybe the most exciting thing that ever happens is you get to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters. But mostly you don't even get to do that. Then some Ringwraiths or stormtroopers come along and fuck up your life. This incites you to action. Off you go on a grand adventure, a hero's journey. Doesn't matter now not ready you are.
That's how fiction works. Even good non-fiction stories often have that inciting incident. And certainly it happens in real life too, in a more mundane sense. Cheryl Strayed had some events happen in her life that led to her hiking the PCT, woefully ill-prepared. Turned out alright for her. But the inciting incident is just a concept that makes for good stories. It's not a good lifing tool. It kind of has the effect of taking away your agency, doesn't it? You are the boss of your own life! You don't have to wait for an inciting incident. You have agency. You can do whatever you want.
Ready or not.
Footnote #1: Here is the scuba mnemonic Corinne and I made up: Boromir Wants Ring Attacks Frodo. Stands for like check BCD, Weights, Regulator (?probably?), Air and Friend. Or something like that. I am not a certified PADI instructor don't sue me!
Footnote #2: Training, knowledge, skills and experience are good things and in no way is this article trying to say that you should not bother with them! Don't die out there!
- Nathan Waddell