As a teenager, I remember spending hours immersed in the words of Ernest Hemingway, Robert Ruark, and Jack O’Connor.
These men eloquently documented their gloabal adventures as they sought out game and fish species across the globe. They recounted days spent in Africa, India, the South Pacific, Cuba, all mystical, far-off destinations I wished to travel to. I longed every day to follow their footsteps chasing a massive Tahr in the Himilayas, waiting in a blind with an anxious guide and tracker for a ghost-like leopard to appear, or facing down a dangerous Cape Buffalo in the Okavango delta. In pursuit of the dangerous buff Ruark once wrote “He looked at me as though I owed him money. I never saw such malevolence in the eyes of any animal or human before or since”.
Compared to these tales, my own pursuits for ducks, rabbits, deer, and geese seemed quite unadventurous. Make no mistake, I would still lie awake with anticipation the night before the opening of duck season. There is and always will be something magical about migratory waterfowl dropping into the decoys at first light.
As I aged and headed toward college, my Dad gave me a unique gift one year. It was a collection of books summarized as “Stories of the Old Duck Hunters and Other Drivel” by a gentleman named Gordon MacQuarrie. MacQuarrie was a prolific outdoor writer form Superior, Wisconsin whose articles were published in newspapers and several outdoor magazines. MacQuarrie lived in better times to be a sportsman. After WWII, game was plentiful, land was open to hunt, people in general were closer to land and farm and more familiar with the cycle of life and death. MacQuarrie wrote about his own adventures pursuing ducks and trout in Wisconsin. He wrote often of his cabin by the lake, and his beloved Brule river. Most of these adventures took place with his Father-In-Law. At some point it occurred to me his stories were not about exotic lands but rather his own backyard. They were not much different than my own.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in rural New Jersey before New Jersey turned into California-East where everyone’s feelings are easily hurt, everything is illegal, and things like hunting are considered the domain of the evil. Where I grew up everyone hunted and fished. Not a weekend went by that I wasn’t out in pursuit of furred, finned, or feathered quarry. I was blessed with good friends and good opportunities and didn’t realize at the time that I was already living my own adventures. I did things boys all around me longed to do but many couldn’t. (Sorry ladies . . I know it’s popular now but not a lot of woman hunted and fished back then.)
Like most, life for me changed after graduating and setting out on my own. Suddenly, the nearly unlimited freedom to hunt and fish was gone. There was work, love, and family. Hunting and fishing had to be squeezed in where it could and often at great cost. I often found myself thinking longingly of my own adventures as a younger person much the same way I used to feel about Hemingway, Ruark, and O’Connor. I yearned for the carefree days of stepping out the back door, shotgun or bow in hand, and into the woods.
I just finished reading Barry Lopez’s fine book “Horizon”. In it he tells the tale of his adventures in the Pacific Northwest, the Galápagos Islands, equatorial Africa and Tasmania, and many other far off places. Once upon a time I pictured myself living some sort of life where I was free to go an explore where I wanted. A life where I occasionally faced danger with a calm, cool demeanor. A life where once in a while survival might be an uncertainty. Certainly Lopez found himself in several such situations through his travels but perhaps none more so than the cancer diagnosis he received. We could all face such things one day. How many of us, upon hearing the C word, can look back and say “I’m glad I had my adventures while I could”.
Quite a few years ago now I began following the blog of a couple from New England who sold everything and moved aboard their sailboat named Ithaka. They set off exploring the Atlantic spending weeks at a time at places most of us are only familiar with from the cover of travel catalogs. Places with sugar-white sand, blue ocean, and brilliant green palm trees.
By its very definition, liveaboard cruising comes with risk. Each night of sleep can only be earned when one knows the anchor is firmly planted and no sudden storm is going to throw your house onto a nearby reef. Or worse, if at sea there is no real sleep but only a prolonged, restless nap as the boat heaves through ocean waves and the watch person keeps a vigilant eye for squalls, pirates, or mammoth ships that wouldn’t even notice if they ran over a sailing yacht. Each week I waited for a new post. Each week I absorbed every word. I thought “This is what I want to do when I retire”. I showed Janice one day. The idea of moving aboard a boat and sailing around the world went over like a lead balloon. I knew that would be the answer but I was still crushed. She loves to travel but only in the traditional western sense. The idea of eating fresh-killed Tahr heart while snugly billeted in a tent during a Himalayan snow squall appeals to me much more than her. I realized then that there are many parts of the world I will only ever read about or see pictures of.
I am learning from my own history though. I realize I am still fortunate enough to enjoy many adventures that others never will. Granted, they are tame by comparison to Lopez’s trek through equatorial Africa. (I walked the campground loop this morning and, despite my imagination, there was zero chance of being stalked by a hunting lioness.) While my wife may not be interested in kayaking the Amazon, she does love traveling in our RV. Sometimes we travel far, sometimes we go close to home. I hope someday to lock the front door, get in the RV and go where the wind blows us and, like Mole from “The Wind in the Willows”, say “Bother!” with the spring cleaning and whitewashing and runaway from home.
As I type this from the dinette in our fancy new coach, there is an issue of “Outside” magazine next to me. It features 33 new ideas for adventures. On the cover, a women is kite surfing in a tropical paradise. Of the 33 featured trips, there are probably only 2 or 3 that feature some pretty cushy settings that my wife could, no doubt, get excited about. In the next campsite, a group of 4 men are packing up their camp on their respective bicycles to head out for day two of a weekend of bike camping. I sit here in our luxurious new motorhome as they pack up their small tents and tiny stoves and think “That would be pretty fun”! That’s okay. Hemingway wrote about “The Old Man and the Sea” but his own boat was a plush, comfortable affair. Ruark loved his full picnic lunch and his sundowners as much as stalking the grass lands for guinea fowl. I guess an adventure with a bit of comfort is acceptable.
But I’m not blind. I’ve been extremely fortunate. I have watched an Eagle soar from above while pursuing bull elk with a bow and arrow 8000 feet up in the Rockies. I have had close encounters with all manner of wild animals including big bears. Our travels to Newfoundland for moose were amazing. Newfoundland is a place Janice and I will travel to when we lock that front door and set off. In my athletic endeavors, I have been blessed with the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon and have been able to complete a full Ironman. While the Ironman turned out to be not my cup of tea, I’d love to be able to go back to Boston. My aging and scoliotic body recommends otherwise though. Still, there are many adventures that await without going heli-skiing or engaging the services of a Pakistani Sherpa. I doubt my wife will wake up today with the sudden urge to leave it all behind and tell me she wants to backpack across Ethiopia but she does like our new motorhome. I’m hopeful we can make our own adventures down the road even if they are safely away from the edge.