Held back by the dark horizon, energy building, bubbling out of sight. The sun waits impatiently for the right time.
Overflowing, the blinding sunrise sets fire to the mountains and pushes to summit the peak. It warms waters tumbling through twisted trees and sparks a blaze to clean the old forest. The morning beams are devoured by the wild and green, who look up to the golden sky.
As daylight takes the world, the curious seek it out with eyes half open and tired. They let go of fear and play freely under the sun.
Every year, National Geographic asks those of us who love the outdoors to vote for our Adventurer of the Year , someone from their list who truly embodies innovation and achievement. Voting has come to a close, but it got me to thinking about all the people who tell me they don’t believe in heroes or simply don’t have one. I think the human race is full of people worth admiring; some are larger than life, but many go relatively unnoticed.
I find myself most inspired by people who are true to themselves. Brave men and women who aren’t remembered for changing other people by activism, but for pursuing what they love and sharing it with others. Here are a few adventurers who inspire me.
Wanda Rutkiewicz was a mountaineer who was uncompromising in the pursuit of her dreams. She was the first female to successfully summit K2 and the third woman to summit Everest. Fear of ending her life on the side of a snowy mountain never stopped her from reaching for every goal that set fire to her imagination.
“You don’t appreciate the full flavor of life until you risk losing it. The perils of climbing fascinated me because they released so much joy and delight in simple things, like the feel of the wind, the scent of rock warmed by the sun, the sudden relaxation of tension, or the hot tea in the cup. By the end of my very first day’s climbing, I knew that it surpassed anything I had ever experienced. The mountains have become the inner force of my life. There is no escape from a passion like climbing, even though it may be the path to death.” -Wanda Rutkiewicz
Jon Krakauer is an author and adventurer who has very strong views and isn’t afraid to share them in his books. While I don’t always agree with his point of view, his books always make me think and I find them difficult to put down. He writes about the deadliest season on Mt. Everest in Into Thin Air, and Into the Wild explores why the wilderness has the pull to sometimes make us abandon all care to embrace it. Often sad but always passionate, his words entangle you in epic stories.
“You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living. My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.” Jon Krakauer, Into The Wild
Grandma Gatewood was the ultimate Hot Mama Hiker. She was the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail – alone. Inspiring her 11 children and 23 grandchildren, she hiked it three times, the first time at the age of 69! Despite finding the trail harder than she thought and possibly regretting ever starting her quest, she didn’t give up. Despite being a life long “the journey is more important than the goal” kind of hiker, I have always found inspiration in those who fight their way through something just because they couldn’t bare to leave it unfinished.
“I thought it would be a nice lark”
…”It wasn’t.” Grandma Gatewood 1887-1973
Rutkiewicz, Krakauer and Gatewood are well know adventurers but here are some quiet dreamers that you might not have realized were out there…
Raw honesty and humor from a seasoned Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. Amy’s honesty inspires me to bare my soul without fear and I really enjoy the wide variety of subjects she tackles with wit, enthusiasm and good nature. Here is one of her more serious, contemplative moments and then a couple of fun ones…
“Even when u say that he died doing something he loved, it does not make the blow any softer. He would have wanted to die seventy years from now, a hobbling old man who tells stories of the days when he still had his stride, stories of drinking his way from Maine to Georgia. He wanted to be the sort of old man who sat on the porch and watched his grandchildren run in the yard and feel strangely like all his energy was spent. He did not save it up, he used his potential in his lifetime. Maybe he would have married his grammar school sweetheart, maybe he met a girl at a bar, maybe he met a girl at a summit marker and never wanted to climb another mountain without her, but I have to believe he wanted to find true love.” In Memoriam
“Part of the confusion was seeing rail-thin people composed of solid muscle announce that they could eat whatever they wanted. I wish someone could have told me, firmly, “Look, those people composed of muscle have a different metabolism from someone who has had a significant layer of fat on her body since birth. Ignore, ignore, ignore.”” How I Lie to Myself About Caloric Input/Output
“When I told my mom in September 2011 that I was starting a blog, she said, “It is not going to be a weight blog, is it?” “No, of course not, I am far more interesting of a person than that.” At the time, I did not want to limit my blog to one topic. I wanted to write about hiking the Schoodic range one day, and write about listening to the most epic couple in Downeast Maine the next day, and write a fragment of my memoir the next day, and so on.” I Have Signed Up To Run The MDI Marathon
Tengu is one of my best friends and an unstoppable, brave adventurer. His photographs are breathtaking, even though he would never claim them to be, and he usually has me rolling on the floor with the sticky situations in which he finds himself. He’s just started this blog so keep your eye out for more tales of his long-distance hikes in New Zealand, the States and wherever he’s headed next.
“There I stood on an embankment of loose soil, a dozen feet above the Rainbow River. The mad cow boys inching closer still. Seeing no way out of the predicament, I whipped out my camera and began taking shots of my new friends. Some sick payback for my earlier sheep incident, I s’pose.” Tengu in New Zealand, hiking a long trail called Te Araroa
“I remained uninspired for most of the day’s tramp. I kept thinking about the section of quite possibly awesomely dangerously wet trail I’d be missing. But, in the long run, I remained OK with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be getting in over my head. Knowing how frustrated I can become, and how such frustration can quickly and easily turn to brash decision-making, I’d have wound up trying to ford some stream, or traipse off into a body of water, just out of spite.” More classic Tengu humor
I often dream about blazing my own trails through forgotten forests, but there is something profound about following the same trail that has been walked by so many brave people. Adventurers like these five, and so many more, feed my fire to live life to the fullest and to my highest ideal. I hope to teach my son to be proud of himself if he works hard and faces his fears, not comparing himself to others but to his own past. Believing it is possible to reach great heights comes from seeing others reach them and learning, often by trial and error, that we could be capable of that achievement too.