I do not have the need for speed; I keep my distance from motorcycles, race cars and even roller coasters. Nor do I relish the thought of climbing a wall of rock or a snow-capped mountain. In other words, I am not a thrill-seeking kind of guy—at least not in regard to external activities. I find all the adventure and exhilaration I need through the potent combination of a challenging project and a keyboard.
Please, no calls to the Geek Squad to hunt me down, sedate me, and release me into the wild. I do manage to get outdoors once every so often all on my own. I think once I even started to get a tan.
A friend sent me the following video of guys BASE jumping in a wingsuit with the note that it took her breath away. I agree that it’s amazing stuff. And I suspect that a good portion of those who watch it will add it to their Bucket List. Me? Just watching these daredevils terrifies me. Excuse me while I go throw up.
Speaking of wingsuits, here’s the story of Raphael Dumont, the first human being to land on water in a wingsuit without a parachute. I think I just passed out.
And here is Motocross rider, FMX rider and all-around daredevil Travis Pastrana skydiving . . . without a parachute! The only way I’d jump out of an airplane is if it was still on the ground—and I’d probably pack a parachute anyway, just in case!
While filming the aptly named movie Jackass 3, Scott Palmer joins Pastrana in the “No Parachute” club. As far as I’m concerned, jumping out of a plane with no parachute is known as “jumping to a conclusion”!
The ultimate act of horribly misguided thrill-seeking and dream-chasing is Nik Wallenda‘s twenty-three-minute, fifteen-hundred foot walk across the Grand Canyon on June 23, 2013. If you’d like to tempt death and you’re single with no family or friends, hey, knock yourself out. But to risk plunging to a gruesome demise in front of your wife and three kids? Sorry, potentially exposing your kids to unadulterated horror and a lifetime of nightmares and emotional trauma is a high price to pay for continuing the family legacy.
Zip-lining is the latest craze for thrill junkies. This 1.2 zip-lining ride in Sun City, South Africa, claims to be the world’s fastest, highest, longest, steepest zip-line. The day I go on a zip-line is the day that a dog wins Britain’s Got Talent. Oh, wait.
Here is a forty-one minute episode of 60 Minutes called “Going to Extremes”. The episode, which aired February 26, 2012, features three segments:
• “Birdmen” who soar off cliffs in wingsuits
• A climber who scales sheer mountain faces without climbing ropes
• Divers who swim with Great White sharks
The fact that so many people love living on the edge—nay, feel that they have to live on the edge lest they die of boredom—has always been a head-scratcher to me. I just didn’t get it. Until, that is, I read Eckhart Tolle‘s brilliant book,The Power of Now. Here’s what he wrote:
The reason why some people love to engage in dangerous activities, such as mountain climbing, car racing, and so on, although they may not be aware of it, is that it forces them into the Now—that intensely alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking, free of the burden of the personality. Slipping away from the present moment even for a second may mean death. Unfortunately, they come to depend on a particular activity to be in that state. But you don’t need to climb the north face of the Eiger. You can enter that state now.
Then I read a profile of rock climber Dean Potter by Katie Arnold in the 11/05/07 issue of ESPN The Magazine. Potter is a pioneer in three risky offshoots of climbing:
• Free-soloing (climbing without safety ropes)
• BASE-jumping (acronym for parachuting off Buildings, Antennae, Spans or Earth formations)
• Highlining (a wobblier version of a circus tightrope)
Potter is the only climber in the world who highlines without a harness. Ummm, yes, you read that right. The article states:
In Utah’s Arches National Park, he walked two 50-foot highlines suspended 400 feet above the ground between three blocky spires. For three days, from sunrise to sundown, he traversed their length more than 100 times. When he slipped once, he snagged the webbing with one knee and corkscrewed back onto the line.
That sound you heard was me passing out and smacking my head on the linoleum. Now where was I? Oh, yes. Potter says he does what he does because:
I’m addicted to the heightened awareness I get when there’s a death consequence. My vision is sharper, and I’m more sensitive to sounds, my sense of balance and the beauty all around me. A lot of my creativity comes from this nearly insane obsession. Something sparkles in my mind, and then nothing else in life matters.
I’ll take your word for it, Deano. Here’s how the article ends:
In the meantime, every ascent, every BASE-jump, every highline takes Potter just a little closer to that transcendent place where body and mind are at their peak at the same time, when his whole world snaps into focus.
When anything, everything, is possible.
Okay, I guess I get it. It’s not just the adrenaline rush. It’s not just the momentary escape from an unsatisfying life. It’s not just the satisfaction of taking on nature one-on-one and living to tell the tale.
The key phrase Tolle used was “intensely alive.” In that state, everything that is not the essence of who we are is stripped away and we are lost in the moment. And that is where God lives.
But God lives in every moment; you just need to know where to look. Oh, and you don’t need a crash helmet to meditate.
UPDATE: Dean Potter was killed while attempting a wing suit flight in Yosemite National Park on Sunday, May 17, 2015. He was forty-three.
UPDATE: I just became aware of Chancing It: Why We Take Risks, by Ralph Keyes, a prolific author I recently began corresponding with. In his book, Ralph explores the psychology of risk-taking in great detail. Here’s a synopsis of the book from his website:
Chancing It: Why We Take Risks
When was the last time you took a risk? Was it thrilling, scary, or both? Do you envy others who summon the courage to dare something you’d never try? Whatever risk actually means to you — whether it’s doing something for sheer adventure or making a life-altering decision — you may suspect that you play it much too safe.
Chancing It asks why so many of us feel that way. It is a provocative, in-depth look at the thirst we all have to both take risks and avoid them. But what do we mean by risk? According to Ralph Keyes, risk is not derived from an actuarial table but from our own inner feelings. “Risk,” he writes, “is in the fears of the beholder.” It is “any act one is afraid of taking.” What is risky to you may not be to someone else. If you can coolly strap on a parachute and leap from an airplane, but break out in a cold sweat at the thought of getting married, then you’re probably a Level I risk taker: one who requires intense doses of physical daring to get the adrenaline flowing. If you are willing to take the lower key, long-term risk of starting a business or staying married, but would no more ride a motorcycle than walk off a cliff, then you are probably a Level II risk taker: one who gets plenty of stimulation just crossing the street.
Either way, the chances we take, as well as the ones we avoid, say a lot about who we are. In order to help us understand our attitudes toward risk for our own benefit, Keyes examines a variety of risks and risk takers. He introduces us to wirewalker Philippe Petit who is afraid of spiders, snakes, and marriage. He talks to “pot stirrers,” who court the forbidden by shoplifting for the thrill of it, and engaging in sexual adventures. He profiles action addicts, such as a Vietnam veteran whose combat-induced craving for danger led him into drug smuggling. We also meet a woman who started her own business with a $500 loan, and a middle-aged man whose commitment to his wife and children spurred him to organize his family into a working jazz band.
Keyes concludes that taking genuine risks is necessary and healthy. Alas, the “American way of risk” glorifies physical daring at the expense of psychic risk, and has led to pseudo and vicarious forms of risk-taking that leave us hungry for the real thing. Keyes offers some perceptive suggestions for assessing our own attitudes toward risk, and taking risks that will enhance the quality of our lives.
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