Friday, April 10, 2009

Sea Kayaker April Issue

Picked up the April issue of Sea Kayaker magazine to read on the flight over to Europe and was pleased to find myself drawn into a great edition.

Three items jumped out above the usual, Chris Cunningham's editorial, the letter from Pat Donlin and the article on Health. Like many in my generation I suffer from acid reflux an found the last item to be particularly pertinent.

But first to the editorial. I carefully read and re read the editorial then went to the letter from Pat Donlin that raised the question. I concluded that there were really two questions here; 1st should Search and Rescue (SAR) Teams be expected to come to the rescue of high risk adventurers? And 2nd should we idolize these adventurers.

Cunningham takes on the first question and answers it with an emphatic yes. He of course is absolutely correct. No SAR team, be they professional or volunteer units, has a litmus test to determine if a response is warranted. Lets see, you're irresponsible, poorly trained, poorly equipped and not very admirable, sorry we can't save your soul. Thankfully it does not work like that.

But the second question never really gets resolved. It's a tricky one. One of those principal, ethical and moral questions whose answer is usually found in some Grey area. Neither yes or no. The type of question that confounds the usual rhetoric generators - politicians and sports figures. In Donlin's letter it's implied that we should not idolize these adventures. The question is never clearly stated but it lays there between the lines.

Cunningham comes at this question sort of sideways because to some extent the magazine is part of the myth making machine. It regularly runs story's of adventurers accounts of their firsts a-rounds or fast crossings. In fact there is an excellent account in the April issue about the descent of the Atrato river in Columbia.

These story's when well told inspire. Maybe they provide the spark to do something extraordinary in another wise ordinary life. Or, maybe they only light up the imagination for a moment or two. Either is important and a positive result.

Cunningham references Joshu Sloccum's adventure as the first person to solo sail around the world. But don't take his word for it. Read Slocum's book. I believe the book is what made the adventure. It was his ability as a story teller that elevated the events. Face it sailing alone entails long stretches of tedium, boredom personified. The same happens on kayak trips, but a good writer can make the adventure.

Most adventures are complicated undertakings made simple while the people who undertake them always remain complex. You train, you develop the skills, you plan, you organize, you implement it's straight forward, it's just not easy.

When I was a boy I idolized a certain sports figure. I cut his pictures out of Sports Illustrated and taped them to my bedroom walls. This was long before the swim suit editions or I am sure other figures would have made it to the wall. Later I learned that my hero was a wife beater. Heroism crashed hard that day.

So as a father the lesson I taught my son was not to put people on to high a pedestal. Celebrate the accomplishment but keep in mind how complex humans are.

Freya Hoffmeister has left her family to complete her circumnavigation of Australia. Even if I had her skill, her fitness and her tenacity I would not do what she is doing. My family and the joy I derived from raising my son has kept me at home. That's about values mine are simply different from Freya's.

In fact I'm so out of step with the world that I believe raising a child up to be a successful and compassionate part of society is the greatest thing any parent can do. Paddling around a continent pales in comparison. Call me old fashioned.

Nevertheless when she succeeds I hope her account inspires someone to do something extraordinary, who knows maybe it'll be her own son.

Freya is closing in on successfully completing the 575 km crossing the Sea of Carpentaria.

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