Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Why do people undertake risky adventure activities, climb steep mountains and raft down treacherous rapids?

Mountains of the Himalayas
For most adventure loving people, mountains can be a metaphor for achievement,and goals in life. That mountains are poerful metaphors and that they have a strong pull cannot be denied by many. They say that once a person is smitten by the mystical beauty of the mountains, he or she will continue to visit them year in and year out! For many adventure loving people, mountains can also symbolise a quest, a journey towards self-discovery and a means of achieving self-actualisation. Mountains can also be a manifestation of the spiritual world that gives us sustenance and staying power. In the medieval ages, pilgrims made the arduous trip to Canterbury for penance and to ask for blessings of the saints, today, this has been replaced with annual treks in the mountains like for example in India you have the Char Dham Yatra.
Life in the 21st Century has become so boring and dull that people yearn to get away from a rather humdrum life they are litterally dying for change! Corporate companies  organise adventure camps in order to help their employees regain their mojo (this would essential add up to their performance and the the profits of the company in the long run). Good schools  organise expeditions and excursions to the mountains so that students can learn to adjust to a tough camp life where they have to wash their own dishes, and adjust to the scarcity of water. In schools where students are spoiled for choice having so many facilities, it becomes a learning when students wash their own plates and ensure that they leave no trace in terms of wrappers and other stuff that they might throw carelessly around. Expeditions to the mountains teach visitors important life skills, they learn to be a team, and gain a first hand glimpse of how powerful Nature is.  It is very important for all of us to understand how small and tiny we are when compared to the mountains, rivers and forests and oceans beyond towns and cities. As it is, towns and cities have become mere concrete jungles, repositories of dust and smoke!
One of the questions in a CBSE grade eleven English Core textbook asks the question, “Why do you think people undertake such adventurous expeditions in spite of the risks involved?” The question is based on an extract describing Gordon Cook’s failed round the world trip in 1976. An interesting ponderable is based on thereasons that motivate  people to untertake risky voyages in treacherous seas, or for that effect why do they climb the Mt. Everest in spite of the risks involved? When I recently watched the movie, “Everest” based on a true event that took place in the year 1996, (where a mountain climbing team was hit by a storm leaving many people dead) I wondered why the members of the ill fated team had decided to undertake such risky trip! I am sure that deep in their hearts each member of the team was aware of the risks involved in climbing the summit. Was the expediton worth it? Each member of the team in that ill fated expedition had a different reason for setting on the trip to Mt. Everest. For the female Japanese climber it was about taking the tally of her mountain conquests to seven, for another it was about fulfilling a promise made to school children that he would plant a flag on the summit for them, for yet another climber it was about covering up for a previous failed attempt.
Everyone has a different reason for doing the unthinkable. For Arunima Sinha (The first woman amputee to climb Mt. Everest, an Indian) it was about regaining confidence after losing a limb - it was about proving to herself that she was as good with a prosthetic limb as she was with the real one.
I would however like to state that this article is not just about climing Mt. Everest, it is  also about trying to understand why people love to play with danger; whether it is  rappelling, white water rafting, bungee jumping, slithering down a bridge, sky diving,  or Para-gliding !
My first experience of rapelling down a cliff-face for the first time was filled with the fear of falling, my mind was filled with questions, what if the rope broke, what if the man belaying the rope slipped, what if the rope slipped from his fingers? I was paralysed with fear, my hands and legs were shaking, I was in a daze, my heart was beating very fast, and I wondered why I was taking such a risk. At one time I thought I would not go ahead, but then I had reached the point of no return. In the end I simply had to go ahead because there was no turning back!The feeling of fear however turned into elation when I reached the bottom safely. The second time I got the opportunity to rappel down a cliff face, I was the first to go! I was not the first however to jump off the branch of a tree that was forty-five feet above the ground even if I was tethered to a harness that had been threaded to a pulley. Perhaps looking all the other people doing it made me want to do it even more! Each time I did something risky and exciting, I wanted to do more of it. I was able feel proud of myself. At times it was also about not letting the  team down, and it was about proving to myself that I could do it. There were two occasions when I was part of a team of twelfth graders and then a team of eleventh graders  and we had to raft down the Alaknanda past Byassi and Jayalgarh on a twelve or thirteen kilometre run. I admit being frightened of the whirlpools and rapids that we crossed, and they had strange names like Cross-fire, and Roller-Coaster, and Three-Mice, and when we covered the distance, it was with a sense of relief that I stood on solid land. The first time I did white water rafting was in the year 2013 and that was the year the flood caused by the cloud burst swept everything away. This happened exactly one month after the trip to Byassi.
The scale of  perspective when you are out in the lap of Nature is simply unimaginable; in domestic life everything is so predictable but when  you go to the mountains, you are simply lost! The first time I took part in a white water rafting expedition on the Alaknanda, the Instructor told us to jump off the raft into the water. It was at first frightening but then gradually it became OK, and when our feet touched the river bottom part of our sanity did return. The jump into the river was however not just for the heck of it, rather what the instructor wanted to do was to train us about how to pull people back on board!
Later after a year when I returned to the Alaknanda river and visited Byassi and Jayalgarh in Uttarakhand India, I could see the damage that had been done by the bursting waters of the Alaknanda. The landscape was scarred, huge boulders had rolled over to the sides of the banks, and there were huge tree-trunks that littered the banks. Of the Camp that I had visited in Jayalgarh a year back, nothing remained! One very important question that I keep asking myself is that if I ever get the opportunity to set out on a white-water rafting expedition will I go, and the answer is a definite, yes! But then If you asked my whether I would like to go on a climbing expedition to the Mt. Everest, the answer would be a definite No! No, when I talk about adventure sport and how thrilling and renewing it is, I am simply not bargaining for a trip to Mt. Everest, even if I were to undergo rigorous training for a year or so!

Before I ramble on, I would like to address the question, “Why do they do It?”
To answer this question, I will put in more questions because honestly speaking, I am not an expert on the topic, all I can claim is that I speak straight from the heart! Well, the first rhetorical question I put before the reader might be suggestive enough:
1. Have we become more daring and adventurous in the 21st Century than our forefathers and fathers? At least no one did climb the Mt.Everest before Tensing or Hillary.
2. Do people do it because they have a death wish? They are so fed up of  mundane, humdrum everyday life that they might as well decide to end there lives, not by committing suicide but by doing something thrilling, enjoying the last high, the adrenaline kick before switching off.
3. Are these people so dysfunctional, nerds, extreme introverts living on the edge of the social fabric? Is it because they  want to prove to the society that they can do something daring!  Perhaps they want to bask in the limelight of recognition and fame, even if it is for a brief moment, maybe they want their moment of glory.
4. Could it  be because they want to fulfil a promise made to someone, school children perhaps? Maybe they promised school children that they would plant a flag for them on the summit.
5. Are they nothing but adrenaline junkies, habitual hormone addicts, people who can get their fix only by ding something daring and risky?
6. Is it boredom with life that drives people to climb Mt. Everest? Life in the 21st Century has become so predictable so devoid of challenges that adventure loving people feel constricted.
7. Are people driven towards adventure sports because they want to spend time with themselves,? They might want to  – introspect – meditate and devote self-time which they can’t enjoy in a life that is so full of stress and pending work.
8. Do people want to climb the Everest as a form of devotion towards their creator, the ultimate pilgrimage, a form of dedication towards God?
7.  Could it be simply that people want to do something different? It could be as basic as doing something different for a change!
8. Is it because they want to know more about Nature that people like to explore the hidden? Maybe they want to discover hidden life forms, understand more about tectonic movements.
9. Do people do it because they are plain curious? Perhaps they are curious about the unknown?
10. It could also be because they couldn’t do it the last time, so they want to do it once again. One of the team-members in the film, “Everest” wanted to climb Mt. Everest because he had not been able to do it the previous time.
While these questions can only raise more questions, I feel however that the Socratic method could work well in trying to understand why people undertake such hazardous adventures in spite of the risks involved. For many it might be about confronting their fears and handicaps  like for example William Douglas who hired the services of a swimming instructor and then swam solo in the swimming pool and the Lake Wentworth, and then Warm Lake. William Douglas, an adventure loving outdoorsman of America was handicapped by his fear of water after a near-drowning incident at the YMCA pool in Yakima. This fear of drowning prevented him from enjoying fishing for landlocked salmon, canoeing and wading the Tieton. Douglas realised that in order to enjoy his outdoor activities, he would have to confront his fears. The near death experience that Douglas had undergone at the YMCA pool in Yakima.
Copyright-Rodrick Rajive Lal

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