What an amazing weekend. It was Canada Day weekend here, north of the 49th parallel, and I celebrated with friends by driving 600 km up Vancouver Island, through old growth forests, logging roads, mud puddles, and coastal views. I went as the new guy on the block, signing up for membership with the South Vancouver Island Jeep Club in the parking lot only minutes before leaving. I’ve been playing at overlanding and 4×4 driving for two years now, but with the accident and unexpected detours, I’ve not had the time to learn some of the things I’ve wanted to. This was that chance. It felt like the first day at school, and while much of it was old-hat to me, there were things that scared the crap out of me. Fear, perhaps above all, regardless of what you’re learning, is the biggest barrier to taking the posture of the learner. The acolyte just is what he is because he lacks knowledge, experience – or both – and we fear what we do not know. Our imaginations inflate the “what-ifs” because there is no experience to tell them otherwise. So we move forward in spite of fears, gain experience, and so diminish them – or die trying. Or we don’t. We look up at a rock face that seems impossible to climb up, yet alone drive over, and despite seeing others do it with grace, we panic, we back down, we stay safe but stagnate. Learning is about moving forward.
Not that moving forward is always easy. I had times this weekend when the only way it could happen was to wrap a winch cable around a well-protected tree and pull myself out. And I had times when, having done it, I could use my winch to do the same for others. I’m speaking both literally and metaphorically. Someone asked me recently if the fear diminishes over time, and I think it does. Or it gets displaced. Or, more likely, the fear remains but the strength of your courage grows. If you try and succeed, you gain the courage to try again. If you try, and fail, and dust yourself off, you see that the imagined possibilities aren’t as great as the fear would have you believe, and your courage grows. It is only those who never try, or never pick themselves up, that retreat into the fear and settle for something safe, but less than what they once dreamed of.
There was one point, going up a hill we’d gone up 3 days before, but now much muddier, that my Jeep got hung up, nose way up in the air, with only my buddy Al on the bumper to prevent it from rolling over, ass over tea-kettle*. Another person threw my winch line around a stump, and after about 15 adrenaline-filled minutes I was stable, we had a group hug, and drove the remaining 5 minutes to a breath-taking lookout. Getting there was the best part. After the trip, a couple of us sat around eating Thai food and talking about favourite moments, and a number of those moments centered around things we’d learned; not the incredible vistas or the campsite we found on a sandbar in the middle of a river, but the challenges we overcame to get to those places.
Photographically it was disappointing, I’ll chalk it up as more of a scouting trip than anything. It’ll be a while before I can hike again, so for now these adventures are the best way for me to get into the wild and find the beauty there. I’d hoped to come back with a few great photographs. Instead I came back with great stories. That’s better than staying safe and dry any day.
I leave for Mongolia tomorrow and will be back around the 16th. I’ll be in touch when I return, but if I can I’ll send a postcard from the road. To all my American friends, Happy July 4th.
*Yes, I could have rolled the Jeep. It would have been a gentle roll, and probably would have done a little damage, but nothing that couldn’t be replaced. I’ll stay as safe as I can out there, I promise, but not so safe that I protect myself from lessons learned and stories lived. When I fell off the wall in Italy, one of my nephews said, “I guess you learned not to climb walls, right Uncle David?” to which I replied, “No, Samuel, I’ve learned to be a little more careful about the walls I climb.” It’s his Dad’s job to patch him up.