“But you don’t know how to ride!” So said my friends when I announced last year that I was going to do a two-week horse trek in Mongolia in 2011. Little details like that seldom stop me, but at 73 a little caution is warranted: I had to learn to ride. With almost a year to go before the trip I figured I had plenty of time, but my optimism didn’t quite match the reality. When I left for Mongolia I could barely control a horse at a trot and had managed to canter only once on a lead rope. Did I survive? Of course! (Blog on this trip to follow.)
My adventure resume is pretty impressive. What it doesn’t show is the fact that I have never been very good at any of the wild activities I’ve engaged in. Serious climbers observe that the famous mountains I have climbed have been technically easy and usually professionally guided. Good skiers wonder how someone whose skill set included only a snowplough, kick turn and sideslip could tackle ski mountaineering. As a hiker and backpacker I’m always the slowest one in the party, a failing that eventually led me to do mostly solo trips. As a dog musher I’ve spent a lot of time wallowing in snow as my team disappears in the distance. My point is that you don’t have to be good – just good enough to pursue your goal without endangering others or putting yourself in too much jeopardy.
A willingness to try new things and go well beyond my comfort zone has defined my approach to life: in my career, in marriage to a much younger man, and most of all, in adventure. When I took up mountain climbing I was a couch potato with a paralyzing fear of heights. When I took up skiing I was terrified of speed. Yet those two activities brought me joy over the years that more than repaid the effort required to face my fears. Even failure was quite acceptable because the reward came from the attempt. I never mastered bicycle riding or powder skiing, but I’m glad I gave them a try. Now that age and accumulated injuries have forced me to give up both climbing and skiing, I find that selecting new challenges, like horseback riding and dog mushing, is not difficult. The key is to set a goal and then determine how I can achieve it.
The featured image on this post illustrates the cliche that the highest mountain is climbed one step at a time. At the age of 72 I made a painfully slow ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro followed by what is probably the slowest descent on record. The smile on my face says it all.