I watched a documentary last night called “Walking the Amazon” about the journey of British explorer Ed Stafford. Over the course of 860 days from April 2008 to August 2010, he walked the length of the Amazon from its humble beginnings as a trickle of snowmelt high in the Andes Mountains to its terminus in the Atlantic Ocean over 6000 miles away. Along the way he endured just about everything you would imagine one encountering in the thick of the Amazon basin: starvation, flesh eating parasites, machete wielding tribesmen and some tense moments within the “Red Zone” of the lawless drug producing area of Columbia. An absolutely amazing journey. Beyond the physical strength required I cannot even begin to imagine the mental stamina and fortitude of will it took to accomplish this feat.
Although some people undoubtedly ask “why do people do things like this?”, I completely understand the mindset involved. On a much, much, much MUCH smaller scale I enjoy the feeling of not knowing what’s around the next corner, where I’m going to sleep or if there will be food or water available when I get there. That’s one of the reasons why I love the slight risk involved in bikepacking so much as it resurrects a tiny bit of primal nature within me that is just not stoked by the slow, reliable death by boredom of being penned up in some cubicle farm somewhere. So I think I know exactly where explorers are coming from on my own microscale – I guess I’m a free range engineer at heart.
However, the one thing that I just cannot fathom is how Ed was able to deal with the unending grind of hacking his way through the jungle for days and weeks at a time without any… I guess the best way to describe it would be “psychological payoff”. From my own experience I know that one of things that drives me to get out and explore is the mountain views, the incredible vistas I get to see in the great financially (and some would say morally) bankrupt yet visually stunning state of California. Sure, you have to bust your ass to get to some of these places but even in the desert (which some consider “boring”) at least one can see for miles on a clear day and the visual clarity of the nighttime skies can be sublime. Though I often feel like I put up with a lot of crap just to get by in this crowded environment, on the balance I feel I’m lucky to live here. There’s a payoff involved somewhere along the line and maybe that’s what keeps me from putting too big of a dent in my couch.
But the jungle (which I’m sure would be incredibly interesting for the wealth of biodiversity it provides) seems to only provide a view up to the next tree, to the snake beneath your feet and the botfly larva wiggling beneath your skin. It must be terribly confining both physically and mentally. Months of slogging through that sort of terrain would undoubtedly kill my spirit. Not even 2 full days of pushing my bike through the snow on the Iditarod exposed some cracks in my own personal armor last winter.
So am I weak, or just lucky to live relatively nearby to landscapes that inspire me to get off the couch? Take a look at today’s photo and let me know what you think. Oh before you answer consider that realize that at the moment this photo was taken I was about to begin a 6000 vertical ft freefall through the champagne of a Sierra sunset on a twisty, sometimes snotty singletrack descent. Gotta love California!
Maybe I’m weak AND lucky? Or is exploration just a mindset: you either have it or you don’t? What gets you out exploring?