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 Post subject: an essay on kayaking= an essay on death in the mountains.
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 6:42 pm 
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After reading some of the comments regarding the PNW avy disaster I thought of this essay. Read it.

Stolen from a blog some months ago that had a link to this essay
Even though the examples are through kayaking it doesn't matter the principle is the same.

Quote:
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal listed my book Whitewater Philosophy as one of the “Five Best Outdoor Adventure Books” alongside classics by John Muir, Bill Tillman, Andy Selters and Herman Buhl. To celebrate, here’s an essay that explores the future of our sport.

----------------------

Usually we don’t have to defend our reasons for paddling because it is so obvious to us why we do it, but a funeral is different. Some time ago a friend of mine went to a funeral for a younger man who had been a fellow kayaker. The younger man had been caught on a log on a difficult run, trapped, and drowned in his kayak. My friend is an excellent kayaker himself, had known the younger man for years, and tried to say a few words about him. He found himself talking about how much the younger man enjoyed kayaking, how passionate he was, how much he celebrated his time on the river, how much fun he had there, and how much everybody missed him now.

He thought he’d done a good job explaining, until afterwards several members of the family cornered him and questioned further. They challenged him again and again in their need for closure and understanding of their grief. He quickly found himself unable to answer the tearful questions. If it was a “celebration”, an uncle asked, then why was his nephew dead? How could taking such risks for his own fun be worth it when it ended this way – a smart 22 year old with his whole life ahead of him, gone, drowned doing something for “fun”? My friend struggled for answers, and slipped into several clichés, “at least he died doing what he loved.” At which the mother broke down in tears and said, “I miss my son. Dying isn’t loving.”

Tongue-tied and embarrassed, my friend did the best he could, but later confided to me, “They kept asking questions and I didn’t know what to say. Looking at the mother, I said all the things we normally do but it sounded stupid with her standing there crying.”

When somebody dies paddling, the entire house of wonderful cards, all the laughter and fun, the exhilaration, friendships and good times, suddenly collapses. We’re left with a feeling of pain that is utterly foreign to all that seemed so special about the sport. The party and celebration of life on the river turn into their opposite.

We need to face this and try to find answers. And in doing this, we need to dump the clichés in the trash where they belong. They are not answers, they are denials and avoidance, verbal jingles whose purpose is to save us from facing the disconnect between what we want to believe, and the death that is staring at us. Statements like “that’s the price of pushing the envelope” beg a lot of questions, such as, why is this “envelope” so important that its price is death? If it is that important, then let’s hear why. I don’t hear many answers on the blogs or videos. Maybe someday they can turn their attention to it.

What I do sometimes hear are comments like these, for example, spoken by a top young paddler, wide-eyed and sober after taking a bad swim on the Murchison Falls stretch and washing into an eddy full of hippos - the most nasty tempered and deadly river animal there is, including crocs. He said, “I’ll never go back there.” He was joined in that assessment by all his partners, every one of whom is among the very best younger paddlers in the world. It’s an honest reaction and suggests what probably any of us would say: it was a fun and exciting challenge until the shit hit the fan. It all seemed so romantic and cool to be out there in the depths of Africa, with the hippos and crocs and dangerous rapids, swashbuckling our way through like Han Solo on some far-away planet. To me though, it was remarkable that all the reasons they had for paddling collapsed in that moment, and if the guy had died, then their disconnect from reality would be complete – they would be forced to face the real edge in a way the former bravado did not. And they aren’t alone, the entire sport is like this and virtually every other adventure sport as well.

Why is it that we can get in a kayak and push into the river, or put on our harness and tie into the rope and move up into the world beyond the vertical - why is that when we set off over those thresholds we enter something that seems the essence of reality – that gives the unmistakable combination of awe and fireworks – as if we’re sticking our fingers into the lightsocket of the universe – and why do the people who do it the most have no answers to these ultimate questions? That is the crux here. They are smart and talented, tremendously skilled, they expend all their energy, all their creativity and passion, pouring it into the living part of the sport – and have no answer at all to the reality.

This is blindness, not truly living. The irony I cannot get away from is this: the energy and passion that call to our very core fill us with a life force that seems endless, but yet they also create a form of blindness to the ultimate reality we so dearly feel we touch. The touch of that reality strikes us dumb, shows our rationales to be silly and empty, we cannot find words or meaning in the collision – and yet, it is precisely this collision that reveals the true game. I say, this shows we have not really been acknowledging or even aware of the real game, but playing at some other game that sounds good to us and does not represent the deeper truth. I think a great deal of the things that pass for comments on the sport are little more than coy or clever avoidance. My question to everybody is, which game do we want to play? The one that sounds funny and cool and romantic, or the one that is real?

It strikes me we are fortunate that running whitewater actually is fairly safe nearly all the time, even when it looks hideously dangerous. I wonder whether this is one reason that so few kayakers have any answers for this kind of thing. But what is our sport if we are playing it this way and cannot actually face the ultimate questions it asks us? Are we fooling ourselves?

And if someone thinks that “the price of pushing the envelope” is an answer, then he should try it out on the mother of a friend who has died. Hopefully before the words escape his lips, he’ll realize how utterly stupid the statement is.

We choose to go on the river of our own free will; we don’t have to be there. We aren’t saving our family or rescuing a princess who is about to be killed by a dragon, or winning a war against an evil empire. We aren’t doing anything that necessarily has value in the outside world, and all the professionalism and sponsorship merely hides that fact and plays on the stereotypes which, in turn, hide the avoidance of deeper personal questions.

However, I suggest we are doing something that can have huge personal value to us, suffuse our lives with beauty and truth, which lie side by side with the energy and passion, but are as yet unarticulated. Little of that is expressed very well in the usual reasons that people give, and it certainly isn’t expressed in any cliché I’ve ever heard. Please, from now on if you hear somebody saying one of these cheap, unthinking clichés, ask him what he really means. Demand an answer. Provide one yourself.

If we’ve got our finger on the pulse of this wondrous thing called a river, and if we are going to go places where death is a possibility, then we need to think more deeply about why we’re there. Because when you add death into the equation, the question is different and the answers change.

-----------------------

—Copyright Doug Ammons. For more such stories and essays, or for information on my books, see http://www.dougammons.com.

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 Post subject: Re: an essay on kayaking= an essay on death in the mountains.
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 6:52 pm 
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Very good post! thanks


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 Post subject: Re: an essay on kayaking= an essay on death in the mountains.
PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2012 7:14 pm 
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Great words, well spoken.


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 Post subject: Re: an essay on kayaking= an essay on death in the mountains.
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:58 am 
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Something to think about.
Thanks for sharing.


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 Post subject: Re: an essay on kayaking= an essay on death in the mountains.
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:18 pm 
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This is a interesting essay.

I'll be honest, I first read it a couple days ago and it has been eating at me. I can't say I disagree with it but.......

Maybe there are some out there who can't articulate why it is we do what we do (snowboarding,surfing,kayaking,climbing,riding motorcycles ect.) therefore simply rely on cliche's to try and explain. Maybe some of our family's can't understand why we expose ourselves to the level of risk we do, especially when it goes wrong and someone dies.

I know why I go out there. I know why I can accept the risk.

Snowboarding/surfing make me feel whole. Getting out there and doing what I love to do fills my soul. Without it I feel like a empty shell of a person.

That makes the risk worth it to me. All I can do is hope my family and friends understand that.

I'm not saying we should be making rash decisions or pushing ourselves into overly dangerous situations, but there is a inherent risk in what we do. We all accept that risk every time we go out.

I think if we feel deeply about what we do, then we should make an effort to explain to our loved ones how important doing these things is to us. Explain that it is more then just fun and exciting or (god forbid) EXTREME.


I hope something I wrote here makes sense. I honestly wrote this down to make myself feel better and I feel like I'm rambling. If I'm out of line tell me. I'll delete it.

:guinness:

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 Post subject: Re: an essay on kayaking= an essay on death in the mountains.
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 6:17 pm 
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boardrider247 wrote:
This is a interesting essay.

I'll be honest, I first read it a couple days ago and it has been eating at me. I can't say I disagree with it but.......

Maybe there are some out there who can't articulate why it is we do what we do (snowboarding,surfing,kayaking,climbing,riding motorcycles ect.) therefore simply rely on cliche's to try and explain. Maybe some of our family's can't understand why we expose ourselves to the level of risk we do, especially when it goes wrong and someone dies.

I know why I go out there. I know why I can accept the risk.

Snowboarding/surfing make me feel whole. Getting out there and doing what I love to do fills my soul. Without it I feel like a empty shell of a person.

That makes the risk worth it to me. All I can do is hope my family and friends understand that.

I'm not saying we should be making rash decisions or pushing ourselves into overly dangerous situations, but there is a inherent risk in what we do. We all accept that risk every time we go out.

I think if we feel deeply about what we do, then we should make an effort to explain to our loved ones how important doing these things is to us. Explain that it is more then just fun and exciting or (god forbid) EXTREME.


I hope something I wrote here makes sense. I honestly wrote this down to make myself feel better and I feel like I'm rambling. If I'm out of line tell me. I'll delete it.

:guinness:


I agree with what you have said here. To me this essay is about the reality of the risk we take vs. the TGR/Art of Flight attitude of having to make every thing seem so "extreme or gnarly" and having to push the limit just to feel something. I mean pushing the limit(personal or limit of the sport) is very cool, but it is the most over used phrase/mind set in snow sports/climbing/ surfing etc... an example of this is in the art of flight when whoever gets caught in that slide has a complete meltdown after the fact. Risking his life then didn't seem as cool as it did 10 minutes earlier in the film.

another quote I heard and remember often is "no one dies doing what they love, they all die kicking and screaming"

I think all of us that take part in activities such as splitboarding understand the risk and the reward and in my own life if something were to happen to me, I hope that the people I love understand that being in the mountains is something I need- I am addicted. On the other hand it is up to me to decide what it's worth. Like you and the essay said- I think we owe it to ourselves, the people that care about us, and the splitboarding community to stop using catch phrases to describe our experience.

:twocents:

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