“Because it’s there.” Those famous three words were reportedly said by George Mallory to answer the question, why did you want to climb Mount Everest?
Why would anyone want to scale the tallest mountain in the world? Or swim across the vast unending blue of a great lake? Or trek across the frozen wasteland of Antarctica?
It takes endurance and heroism to be a trail blazer. To do something first. To prove not only to oneself, that you have what it takes to push yourself to meet seemingly impossible goals, but to also prove to the rest of humanity that it can be done.
Once something is proven to be possible, there are other ways to keep pushing the boundaries of our limits. Once a path is created for us to follow, we can challenge ourselves to see if we can also follow it. Beyond the first person to do something, there is also the record for being the fastest or the youngest person to accomplish the amazing feat. Once the path up the mountain is charted we want to see who can make the voyage with less gear or without an oxygen tank in the high altitude thin alpine air.
Who are these brave adventurers? Are they adrenaline junkies? Determined to leave behind a lasting legacy, proof that they were here on earth and did something with their lives? Or are they altruistic? Doing it not just for themselves or their own ego, but to encourage others to find the true boundaries of personal achievement and capability, to go past their limits, and to live fully. To add adventure, excitement, and inspiration to our shared human experience.
In 1954 Roger Bannister stunned the world and proved the impossible was possible. He was the first person to run the 4 minute mile. Once he showed it could be done, his record was broken less than three months later. He went on to have a forty year career as a neurologist.
The switch from sports to medicine was also a challenge for Bannister. Bannister explained, “There were only 170 neurologists in Britain then and, whether spoken or unspoken, there was this insidious feeling. How can Bannister, a mere athlete, probably spoiled by all the publicity and fame, dare aspire to neurology?”
Jon Krakauer, famed for his book Into the Wild, the account of a young man’s journeys across America, and his tragic death, perishing in the Alaska wilderness, is also an accomplished mountain climber. In his writing Krakauer chronicles the psyche of alpinists, and the treacherous and perilous risks they take in their attempts to reach the summit.
Krakauer has said, “When I was 23, I went to Alaska by myself into the glaciers of the coast range and climbed a mountain by myself. It was incredibly reckless, incredibly stupid. But I was lucky. And I survived, and I came back to tell my story.”
When asked to explain why he climbed, he answered, “There’s something about being afraid, about being small, about enforced humility that draws me to climbing.”
At 14 years old Trinity Arsenault swam 32 miles in less than twenty four hours to become the youngest long distance swimmer to ever cross Lake Ontario.
Of the record breaking teen, swim coach Shaun Chisholm told the Toronto Star newspaper, “It looks OK but water that’s in the 60s (Fahrenheit), most people scream when they get into (it). So to actually go past 20 hours, it takes unbelievable strength mentally and physically. And for a 14-year-old to be able to do that — that takes a special person.”
Explorer Felicity Aston is the first woman to travel across Antarctica alone. It took her 59 days to ski 1084 miles of icy terrain.
In her book Alone in Antarctica, the meteorologist and climate scientist explained the lessons she learned from her trek. “It was clear to me that the success of my expedition had not depended on physical strength or dramatic acts of bravery but on the fact that at least some progress – however small – had been made every single day. It had not been about glorious heroism but the humblest of qualities, a quality that perhaps we all too often fail to appreciate for its worth – that of perseverance.”
Record breaking athletes, mountain climbers, and explorers risk hypothermia, exposure to harsh punishing elements, and push themselves to the limits both physically and mentally. We don’t have to follow their example. But we should challenge ourselves to find our own form of adventure. To find the things that challenge us, and make us feel most alive.
As Mark Twain said:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Author: Tara Collum
Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the co-creator of a forthcoming web serial about twins in a small town. She believes it is never too late to be the person you are meant to be. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun