Beauty and the Beast: Teens, Adventure & Type 2 Fun

When I look at Cai and his friends I love the sense of potential I see. They are incredible young people. They are all different and they all have something to give to the world. YET… I also see the way that the world they grow up in has robbed them of knowing how to achieve this potential. If they spend a large part of the day playing video games or watching memes, they are not practicing being an adult. They are giving into the easy road. They are setting themselves up to jump on the hamster wheel. 

Technology has brought so many amazing opportunities into the world. The ability to communicate and gather information is unprecedented. The number of sources of learning are unbelievable. Yet, in this world of overwhelm we often revert to the lowest common denominator. We use our technology to kill time in senseless ways. That is unless we know what we are capable of, have a sense of ownership of our time, and the desire to make the most out of it. We also need to act on these things. 

Most children are cosseted. As parents, we are so fearful of what may happen to them that we shelter them. The endless hours of driving them to orchestra, soccer or volleyball. The preference that they stay at home where we know they are safe rather than play outside. Let’s be real, they make it easy for us, because they like to stay at home. They have more distractions in their pocket than our childhood selves had in our extended neighborhood. But what are they learning about themselves? What are they learning about their place in the world?

To know who we are we have to deal with adversity. We have to struggle and come through the other side. As adults we all have tales of adversity. They create the fabric of who we are. Here are two of mine. Both from the mountains. They are not the only ones.

During my late teens I discovered the Alps. The scale of the mountains blew me away and fueled my ambitions. A partner and I opted to climb a classic but less trafficked rock climb to the summit of a high peak. We did our due diligence. We climbed the “voie normal” to acclimate and learn the descent route and we then felt prepared. The route itself was known as “the chest of drawers” because it involved loose rock. So much so, you pulled a hold out took a look at it and put it back. We went up the night before and climbed the initial pitches to a ledge. The reasons were twofold. One, we were well established on the route in the morning. And two, there were gullies on either side that dropped a lot of debris with warm temperature. Being in these zones was dangerous during the day. 

The following morning we started climbing at 6.00 am. The initial pitches were up a rib that also suffered from rockfall, albeit less devastating. At 8.00 the gullies started jettisoning loads of shrapnel. The sounds were intense. At 9.00 nearing the top of our exposed ground and on the lead I heard a whirring noise. I looked up to see a block the size of an old tv hurtling towards me. I tucked myself as close to the cliff as possible and muttered what might constitute as prayers. The block hit a piece of rock above me and shattered, most of the debris deflected to my left and right. One piece the size of a ping pong ball took a gouge out of my helmet, another not much bigger than a pea hit my shoulder. The pain was intense. I could not lift my arm above my shoulder and my partner suggested I shouldn’t throw rocks at him. We were less than a third of the way up the route. I was overwhelmed. Descent was impossible until the freeze started. We decided the best option was to continue over the top. It was a long day. Owain led the rest of the way and I was forced to climb with one arm. We reached the summit after midnight and crawled back to the hut. It was 5 am and I had a new understanding of what I was capable of.

Thirty years later I arranged to ski a fourteener with a neighbor who also had a child in the same class as Cai. The Tuning Forks on Torreys Peak is a beautiful route. The problem was that we had one of our rather spectacular block parties the night before. While John was sleeping I was sampling some very fine ale. I got to bed at about 12.30, the alarm went off at 2.30 and we met at 3.30. 14’ers deserve early starts to ski them at the best and safest time. John drove and I suffered. We started the skin in at around 5.30 my head pounded. Here is the thing, I had said I was going to do it and I knew I had suffered worse before. With these two thoughts lodged in my head I plodded on. It was not fast, I thought I was going to vomit every step for the last 1,500 feet, and John laughed at me. It was funny and I did deserve it. What grew out of this is my favorite ski partnership. Not only was the ski descent incredible, John recognized my tenacity and drive. I was going to get the job done regardless of how much it hurt. This is the kind of person it is good to have adventures with. They are the ones who will do everything in their power to make sure everyone gets home safe. We have had a lot of days out since then.

Neither of these events are recent but I still think about them. They have shaped me. When things are not easy in my life I ponder on them and know that I am capable of rising above overwhelming odds. They are what climbers call Type 2 Fun. In the moment you are in pain and or scared, you are pushing way beyond your comfort level. But it is not long before you remember the event with a rosy glow. They become part of your story. Only replaced by something even more uncomfortable. 

When I watched Cai skin up Quandary Peak last month. I could see the way he was slowing down. I could tell he was nearing exhaustion and that the altitude was hurting him. Part of me wanted to whisk him up, give him a cuddle and say it was ok to go down. I didn’t. Watching him battle the descent with it's lack of visibility, flat light, wind and driving snow I knew it had been a good choice. In that moment he hated me. In his mind I was the reason for his discomfort. But as the distance from the hardship changed so did his perception of it. Steadily, he grew into the warrior of his own story and I was an accomplice. Our bonds of trust strengthened. He now knows himself as being more capable than before the climb. 

It is a paradox. For years I have tried to shelter the boy and now I want him to experience some hardship. Where does your line lie?

Wil RickardsComment