Everything happens for a reason.
Things can go wrong pretty quickly in the ocean. After working in and around this environment for years we can, at times, become too comfortable and forget how little it takes to be overwhelmed. Arrogance is a real danger.
I try once a year to put myself in a place that isn’t familiar and is completely out of my comfort zone. I climb a mountain. When I return, I find my mind is clearer and things feel more in perspective. I also find that I don’t take it for granted that I’ll be safe, even at the beach. Rescue work demands a level of preparedness that is reinforced by walking that edge.
A three-day motorcycle ride got me to the base of my mountain. It was cold, but I’d brought good gear. I had sturdy hiking boots, a fleece, Gortex gear (even though it was perfectly clear), a down vest, waterproof matches, a good knife, and a whistle (for bears). I’d laid it all out, packed extra food and water just in case things went south. I’d even brought a flashlight, extra batteries, and a GPS in case. I knew it would be physically demanding, but I’ve been training a bunch and was feeling good.
As I hiked the path got steeper. Obviously, in December there aren’t a lot of people out climbing so I was careful with my foot placement. I made sure and took lots of breaks, staying hydrated and eating these ridiculous little energy bars. I felt tired but was liking the whole “man against the elements” thing.
I was about halfway up the steep side of the mountain when suddenly this little, slightly paunchy, middle-aged man came zipping by me wearing a Mr. Rogers style sweater, aqua socks, and carrying a very small plastic bottle of some kind of flavored water. He shouted a cheery “Hellooooo!” as he all but skipped by me on the vertical slope.
At the top we shared a cup of hot tea (which I’d carefully prepared and brought in case the weather……well, you know….). He was Korean and visiting every national park in the US for 48 hours. I had to tell him that we wouldn’t make it back before dark several times to get him to descend with me as he scampered around the rocks impervious to the 35-degree air and the 30 mile per hour wind. We barely made it back before dark.
Everything happens for a reason. Instead of returning feeling like I conquered the elements, I was instead reminded to not judge a book by its cover and that there is a real joy in spontaneity and simplicity. I hope that my new friend got something out of the experience as well. Maybe something about preparedness since he would have been stuck out there after dark without my nagging? Or maybe just a lesson about the versatility of a cardigan sweater.
Everything happens for a reason, but the lesson is usually not what was anticipated.