With a bit of blind optimism, we can all make it through the wilderness.
When I first sat down to write about losing my “adventure virginity”, all the obvious metaphors sprang to mind; you know, stuff about it being painful, messy, bloody, and embarrassing.
Indeed, my own loss of innocence, adventure-wise, came about trying to impress a boy, and even resulted in me getting naked!
The scene of my shame was the now defunct Great Ocean Adventure Race in Apollo Bay, Victoria. In a desperate attempt to impress my date (who I can happily report is now my partner) I nonchalantly volunteered to do the 14km ocean paddle leg as part of a team.
I’d been paddling for all of four weeks.
At the time, I was blissfully ignorant of the task at hand and paddled off with all the confidence of Karla Gilbert on steroids. I had no clue about wind or swell, but legend has it, it was blowing its tits off that day. To cut a long story short, I capsized about a kilometre off shore, lost my paddle, and had to cling desperately to my kayak for a good ten minutes before I was spotted by the rescue boat. By the time I was ferried back to shore, I was hypothermic, and was promptly stripped of my wet clothing in front of the entire lifesaving club.
Painful? Yes. Messy? I guess so. Bloody? Thankfully not (although sharks were never far from my mind). Embarrassing? Hell yeah!
But that’s where any comparisons with first-time bedroom shenanigans end. Because, unlike that awkward, fumbled, probably alcohol-infused rite of passage most of us would prefer to forget, the thrill of a new adventure, be it scaling the peaks of Nepal, bombing down singletrack at Whistler, or just bobbing like a drowned rat in Bass Strait, is the stuff of fond memories.
Even if it leaves us flirting with death, bandaging banged-up knees, or nursing crushed egos.
The truth is, there is no such thing as virginity when it comes to adventure. The mere act of being born is our first, most fraught, escapade, and every subsequent milestone throughout childhood–taking our first step; learning to swim; riding a bike–adds to the catalogue.
The trouble is, as we get older and wiser, and the attendant scrapes, bruises and emotional scars accumulate, we tend to become more risk averse. It’s called “knowing better” and it’s both a gift and curse of aging; it keeps us alive, but snuffs out our desire to try new things.
If we let it.
In my years as an adventure-sports coach, I have observed that women, in particular, like to have all the answers before they even know what the questions are; they like to know the worst-case scenario before they’ve so much as picked up a paddle or tied on a pair of trail-runners. Given we are the preservers and nurturers of society, this makes sense on a biological level. But sometimes we become so fixated on what might go wrong, we talk ourselves out of trying.
To succeed in adventure, we don’t need to lose our virginity at all–we need to restore it (and not in the creepy surgical sense). We need to tap into the spirit of that toddler about to stick a fork in the toaster, blissfully ignorant of what might go wrong. Sure, mastering a new activity requires preparation, knowledge and expert advice (I’d be out of a job otherwise), but it also requires a preparedness to fall, fail and flail like we did as kids.
That’s the good stuff.
So next time you find yourself standing on the precipice of a new experience in the great outdoors, savour the moment–that delicious moment when, despite all your careful preparation and head full of theory, you essentially don’t know any better.
Soon you will know better, and, like a long-term relationship, that’s when the hard work begins.