Sunday, November 20, 2011

a quest...

I am a firm believer that we all need to do difficult and demanding things. We are not best defined by a narrative in which we describe all the many ways things have been made easy for us, but by having faced things that have been difficult... that have pushed us to discover our limitations and to surpass those which we were able to surpass. Matti Bergström had said that culture must arise anew with each generation.  Personal narrative is the means through which we sustain ourselves and fabricate meaningful lives.

Joshua Slocum was the first to solo circumnavigate the earth. His was a remarkable story, and if you have not read Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, I recommend it. It is a story of personal triumph over many very difficult things. The book I am reading now the Hard Way Around, by Geoffrey Wolff is about Slocum's whole life. And we learn that the circumnavigation in his small craft Spray was not his first voyage, for he had circumnavigated the planet 4 times before in command of much larger vessels. In an earlier "honeymoon" voyage to South America with his second wife, his ship, the three masted Aquidnick had disintegrated and sunk near Paranaguá, Brazil, and he personally built another smaller boat, not much larger than a sailing canoe from its remains which he called the Liberdade in honor of the end of slavery in Brazil. Liberdade was an extremely small vessel with no amenities and hardly any room below decks.  When his wife Hattie was asked about her voyage by a reporter from the New York Tribune she answered, "It is an experience I should not care to repeat, although now that it is mine I feel a certain satisfaction in having gone through it."

That is the kind of feeling often expressed by those who have been pushed to their limits and survived. So I asked my friends John and Jesse Grossbohlin to tell about their summer adventure riding bikes from Colorado to Washington across the Rockie mountains. John's comments are as follows:
From my perspective the bicycle trip was an opportunity to help Jesse on his journey to adulthood, and present him with a rite of passage experience. I felt that if I didn't do something big with him when he was 15 I'd not have a chance later as girls and other distractions would take over his life... Any younger than that and it would be unlikely that he'd have the physical and mental strength to succeed. I saw the trip as a chance for us to bond and have a unique shared experience that was ours alone. I think the trip was a huge success in those regards and in two years when my other son Joshua is 15 we plan to undertake a big adventure also.

Before we left I'd hoped Jesse would learn how to make decisions when faced with sub-optimal alternatives, learn perseverance, and learn how to overcome problems while on the road. It turned out that there were a lot of learning opportunities. Those opportunities ranged from coping with extreme heat and elevations of over 11,500 feet above sea level; to finding food; and coping with flat tires and defective tires. A few other things that had to be dealt with were the aftermath of a bad crash that Jesse took early in the trip that did a lot of damage to his equipment; and later dealing with a crash that I took in which I injured my left knee and from all indications cracked some ribs. We were in remote locations where towns were a significant distance from each other and frequently had populations of under 30 people. We often had to make do with what we had as there was no place to buy supplies or parts.

Jesse described himself as "a different kid" when we got back home and he is a different kid. Before the trip he had good relationships at school and had no problems with any of the kids. That didn't change. What did change is his attitude about his classes and his desire to do well and study. He has stepped up as a leader in his Boy Scout troop and in school... he is now a role model for the younger Scouts and he encourages and helps other kids in school.

I think we had a great relationship before the trip but now we've got an even better one and have things that only we understand. For example, when we hear people complaining about things we grin at each other knowingly as what they are talking about often pales in comparison to the challenges we faced.

Needless to say, I'm really proud of Jesse.

For me personally, this latest bicycle trip reinforced the notion that if you keep moving you can keep moving. Sure I ached at times, and I didn't bounce like Jesse when I crashed, but I did ride a bicycle over 1,600 miles through the Rocky Mountains and the high plains of 5 western states. I can live with that!
It should be noted that John had taken an earlier ride on his own as a young man, so he was well acquainted with the formative aspects of such an adventure. Jesse's comments are brief, but equally  telling:
On the bike trip over the summer I learned a lot about myself. I learned that if I put my mind to whatever I want to achieve it can happen. This bike trip meant a lot to me. I look back on the pictures and I remember how I got there and I feel a sense of success.

Now, because of the bike trip, my dad and I are both a lot closer. Now I can actually talk to him easier. Also, because of this bike trip, my dad and I both know each other's weaknesses and strengths.
As so many parents are so deeply concerned about finding ways to make things easy for their children a person must wonder why. Would it not be better if we joined them on some form of quest that tested their metal and our own? My thanks to John and Jesse for sharing their observations and for embarking on such an inspiring journey. I suspect they were an amazing example for all that they met along the way. The photo above is Jesse crossing into the state of Washington.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:24 AM

    What a great experience for both of them.