Tuesday, May 25, 2021

What was the Greatest Adventure You Ever Had? Dreams, Hopes, and Memories in Pandemic Times


The first moment of the greatest adventure of my life
What's the greatest adventure you've ever had? And as you consider your future, what is the greatest adventure you ever hope to have?

I've been thinking about that this week, as we possibly, hopefully, approach the end of the pandemic that has caused so much tragedy and heartbreak. I'm teaching a "summer" class that actually ends four days before the official first day of summer, and in the new world of remote teaching, I've had my students submit an occasional online response to geology-related questions. Sometimes my questions deviate a bit from geology though, and this week I asked them what "adventure" means to them, and to recount the greatest adventure they've ever had. And realizing that some may not have had any identifiable adventures, I ask what adventure they would like to have someday.

Redwall Cavern, deep in the Grand Canyon. It is said that 5,000 people could fit in here.

I get lots of interesting answers, because a community college class roster is filled with people of many diverse ages and background. Sometimes they describe a hike in the local mountains, or a walk along the coast. Others describe some harrowing and dangerous life experiences related to the Peace Corps or military service. Because it is an online discussion, the give and take makes for fascinating reading.

Much of my motive in asking such questions is to help them realize that geology, in a way unlike many other disciplines, is an adventure in and of itself. The experience of finding a gemstone in the rough, uncovering a dinosaur bone, feeling an earthquake, encountering a flash flood, or witnessing a volcanic eruption are unforgettable adventures, even if there are negative consequences and dangers. That, after all, is part of what makes an experience into a true adventure.

Standing waves at Hermit Creek Rapids

Some people are content to live lives without 'adventure'. They are happy enough to find a career that satisfies, and prefer to spend their free time at home reading and gardening and the like. Who needs the stress and high blood pressure after all? I understand that perfectly well, but it sure didn't feel very good to have that life imposed on us by a global pandemic. It's the season when I would normally be preparing to take my students on some real adventures, across the southwestern states and the Colorado Plateau, or up north to the Cascades, Glacier and Yellowstone. Some years we explore Hawaii or Canada, or Australia. Instead, I am giving zoom presentations and grading online submissions, and dreaming of being outside.

I got a message from a friend that unleashed a flood of memories of the greatest adventure I ever had. It was innocuous enough: she asked if I had a recording of a community lecture I gave a few years ago about rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I didn't actually remember if a recording existed, but I found it online and had a look. In a short moment I was transported back to the time eight years ago when my brother and his family invited me to join them on the 17-day adventure. I was 56 years old at the time, and was at one of those middle-age moments when one begins to wonder if the big adventures are coming to an end. It turned out that the answer was a firm 'no'. 

Scouting Lava Falls, the worst or second-worst rapid on the river depending on the flow. Yes, I capsized and rode it all in the water. Check my blog series below for the You-Tube of the moment.

I wrote an extensive blog series about the trip called "Into the Great Unknown" that will give you a sense of what it is like to explore one of the largest remaining wilderness lands left on our continent, and what it is like to face your own mortality and fears (there were indeed a few terrifying moments in an otherwise glorious time). But if you want a short and quick visual exploration, you can see my community lecture at this link: https://share.yosemite.edu/go=1EVB. I recall it was the most fun I've had giving a public lecture.

And just for the fun of it, here is the video of the final musical moments of our 17-day journey. We had to delay our landing at Diamond Creek because other rafters were getting on the river and space was limited.

So, as the pandemic begins to fade (if people don't get stupid when we are so close), what adventures will you seek? What are the places you want to see? What do you want to experience? What's on your bucket list, and what are doing to make it happen? And what was the greatest adventure you ever had? There is lots of room in the comments section to share your memories or dreams for the future.


Anonymous said...

Hearing about the diverse background of your students and how some may never have had an adventure makes me appreciate my boy scout years even more. I was in an LDS (mormon) troop that was very active and had budgetary support of the church. I don't share their beliefs anymore but I should be grateful for the c community I grew up in, and kept me out of trouble. The best hike was from Tuolumne meadows Devil's Postpile on the John Muir trail. Such beautiful country. We also did Tuolumne to Happy Isles with a hike up half dome. And there was a loop which included summiting Whitney. And many more. Having never had too much Sierra Nevada I foolishly joined a madman's quest to complete the JM trail in two weeks. I dropped out after a few days due to altitude sickness, but in those few days we made it from Yosemite Valley to Devil's Postpile. What a march.

Garry Hayes said...

The scouts provided me with many of the early adventures in my life, and led to my effort just out of high school to do the Muir Trail as well. We gave ourselves 5 weeks though! Until the rafting trip, I described that journey as the greatest adventure in my life.