Adventure: How much is too much?

I received a rather unsettling email from a fellow blogger yesterday. In it, she updated me on her daughter, who fell off a cliff in Indonesia and broke her back.

The email:

“In that discussion a few weeks ago about youngsters feeling a need to prove themselves in an adventure situation, I told you about my daughter who had fallen off a cliff in Indonesia. She ended up getting to the Spine Hospital in Perth and she had a broken back. Sounds awful but she is very lucky right now, 4 cracks with no nerve involvement. And she should heal OK if she takes it easy for a few months. No carrying her backpack, no hiking. Just wanted to bring you up to speed on her injuries.

I get concerned with some of the posts that are all “rah rah” about bungee jumping and other adventure activities. There are so many damn idiots out there who have a bucket list and don’t engage their brains in the decisions.”

She’s right. You need to “engage your brain” while pursuing adventure. Think about the consequences. Is it really worth it?

Maybe to you, but what about the people who love you? Nobody wants to fall off a cliff and break their back. Nobody wants to die surfing a monster wave. Nobody wants to drown under a log in a whitewater river.

People do, though. And their families are the ones left picking up the pieces.

So step back for a moment. Evaluate the situation. If the chances of you dying or getting severely injured are significantly high, reconsider. You don’t have to be a hero. Live to have another adventure.

I ask you: How much is too much?

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35 comments

    1. So are you saying it’s better to take a chance, than not take a chance at all? What if death could be avoided by using your brains?

      1. I would use my brains and rely on my instincts, and when these 2 say “yes”, I would take a chance. And do you know why? In 2009, I suffered from cancer, then from food poisoning, I lost a friend who committed suicide, I was the victim of a sexual crime and at the same time I discovered that my partner was cheating on me… I survived all this, went through a divorce and chose to be with a man, who really cares about me. And now we live life to the fullest. You won’t see us ziplining, but we’ll create our adventures.

      2. I like your approach. You’re a woman who has persevered through a lot, and you took the high road with a commitment to live life to the fullest. Good for you!

  1. There is definitely a difference between just diving in and looking before leaping.
    One of the advantages of getting older (low 40s) is that I’ve seen/heard enough fallout from poorly executed adventures to have learned from their lessons.
    And as I get older and the pain in my knee gets worse, I will have only myself to blame.

    I think a problem with “new” adventurers is wanting to do it all right away.
    I was more than happy getting six seconds of hangglider airtime on a gentle slope to not need to jump off the cliff next, right away.

    But at the same time, the risk is there. A valve can fail underwater. A surfboard leash can tangle on coral. A bungee cord can snap.
    For all these things, there is an inherent risk, no matter how careful or considered the activity is. Hell, even stuntmen occasionally die on the job.

    “Too much” is the point at which the thrill isn’t worth the risk or the reward.
    One day, I’ll be confined to the bunny slope on the mountain. But I’ll still be skiing. And that’s enough for me.

    1. Age tends to make a huge difference. When I’m out shredding with my old fart buddies, we shred hard, but not as hard as when I’m shredding with a younger crowd (which doesn’t seem to happen very often anymore).

      And you’re right. “New” adventurers seem to want to go all in, right from the get-go. I don’t agree with this approach.

      Things can, and do, go wrong. Maybe the snowboarders in my example above were using their heads, and thought they were riding within their abilities. But something went tragically wrong. How can you possibly gauge when that will happen?

  2. The part that falls short for me is dying walking across the street, driving to work, randomly in your sleep. There really is no way to justify death, but to justify life is where freedom can begin.

    I can speak from experience, also breaking my back ( while mountain biking), and suffered many other injuries as well. There is a profound focus on life, atleast with myself, when I do something others may call extreme. I often find that the people who do not understand are usually the ones that say “he has a death wish”. For me, when I jump in my truck at 6am and zombie my way through the 45 minute commute into the office my life is more at risk than any other time in my life.

    Do you love dying doing what you do…no. But I would rather die doing what I love, as opposed to my demise being at the hands of a drunk driver or some out of the blue stroke.

    Just my .02¢ 🙂

    1. And an excellent .02¢ you offered! Part of the problem when the debate between living a non-eventful, safe life, versus living an adventurous life comes up is you can never predict which one is going to kill you. Like you said, driving to work can be just as dangerous as anything we do in pursuit of adventure.

      I think the point of my reader’s email, though, was the idea that you don’t have to be brave or stupid just to keep up with your adventurous buddies. By all means, live an adventurous life! But think about what you’re getting yourself into first.

      Now I know you almost paid the ultimate price doing something you love. It’s incredibly difficult to tell people in similar situations that they weren’t using their heads. I would assume you were riding within your abilities, and you evaluated the terrain ahead of you. You just made a mistake. It happens all the time. Should that hold you back in the future? Hell no.

      1. I think the exchange here between you and Slimms pretty much sums it up.
        Yes, embrace the zest of life, yes have an awareness of your abilities, but know that anything can happen.

      2. Yeah I made a mistake alright, I went one way and the bike went the other LOL! It was just over 6 months ago when I fractured my T7, and everyone is different, but I am now training for a 5 day Yosemite Backpacking trip where I will summit Half Dome! Maybe you can pass that on to your friend to give her a little hope that things may work out in the end.

  3. How do you know though. My husband thinks the whole skydiving thing is…well, he doesn’t understand it. But I’ve wanted to do it since I was a teen. He suggested indoor skydiving, but that is about as pointless as sugar-free icecream. I have kids though. People do die skydiving, but the odds are much better that I will die from a medication reaction or some other thing. Do I want my kids to see me following a dream that might be risky, or should they just see me suck it up and just take my disability sitting down. Is it worth giving up on something, just in case?

    1. These are the questions we need to ask. And I think you’re doing a great job of evaluating the situation. The odds are in your favor with skydiving. While it’s not the safest thing to be doing, the industry has gone above and beyond to ensure more people live to come back for another round.

      Your kids just might be inspired seeing you skydive.

      1. I think they would. It is good for them to know that no matter what life throws at you, you dont have o just sit around feeling sorry for yourself. There was this thing I saw about a paraplegic guy that climbed a mountain. In his specially designed chair. He had help, and he didn’t make it all the way to the summit, but it was awesome.

  4. I just stick to the ground by principal. It seems artificial to pay some guy to strap your ankle to a bungee cord and toss you off a tall ladder or pay even more to fly a few thousand feet in the air and jump. I would rather die by avalanche, drowning or dehydration, at least that way the only human error is my own. Plus, it’s much cheaper than paying somebody to kill you.

  5. Awesome post, Eric. When we’re young we feel pretty invincible. We’re strong and we have energy and that can-do attitude. Things change as you get older and then when you have kids you start to see the world through a totally different lens — a safety lens. It just sneaks up on you and all of a sudden you become this cautious person you never thought you’d be. Maybe it’s an instinct we have for a reason? Survival. Just another way to look at it…

    1. Now you have me wondering if there have been any studies of the brain in regards to safety before and after having children. I would assume there is a strong biological “protection and safety” component that kicks in when you have children.

  6. As I get older, I try and stay in my limits. The big difference between me at 20 and today’s 20’s is simple. We had no, snowboards, bungee jumps, X games, crotch rockets, sea-doos, minimal access to travel as an affordable option. To many things now that can kill or maim you.

  7. As people have said you potentially risk your life everyday. Plenty of people die or get injured for no reason at all, or by taking no risks. Sometimes it is just being in the wrong place at the wrong time – this can happen in your own home!

    You only live once, your life can be passive or exciting. There is always an element of care to take, but you need to follow your dreams and passions. I have been injured, been in mishaps and I have gotten really sick from travel, but it has never stopped me. I have had all the same things happen when I have been in my own home town.

    Live life the way you want and enjoy it I say (what ever that may mean for each individual)

    1. I actually agree with everything you’re saying. Most of us couldn’t imagine living a life of doing nothing, just for the sake of feeling “safe.” The older I get, the more I contemplate the adventurous scenario before diving in. I’ll more than likely still go because of some nagging urge, but I do think about things a little differently these days. Has it been the same way for you the older you get?

      1. Hi Eric, yeah a little. Like I will consider the fact that if I have climbed to the top of a mountain where there is a waterpool which you can jump off high rocks into, that is hours away from any medical care. I may not jump into it simply because if I hit my head or damage my back……not good!

  8. Eric, I want to thank you for sharing my daughter’s accident with everyone. And I really appreciate everyone’s comments….I will forward this to her and I think she will especially appreciate Slimm’s experience. She is a very careful person and perhaps if she had jumped all would have been okay,. Ironically it was her lack of confidence about the jump that had her looking for a safe way to descend when she lost her balance….and it can happen that easily. Still, as John Phillips said, I didn’t have these activities when I was in my 20s…but she got her love for travel and exploring from me….so it could have been me, in another place and time.
    Thanks,
    Beth

  9. Hi,
    Terribley sorry to hear about the young girl in Indonesia, and glad to hear that everything may turn out alright for her, she is in a fantastic hospital in Perth, and I know she is being well cared for there.
    As you know I’m not the adventureous type, but I love watching people who are, and I hope that those that partake in a lot of these things are very careful and check and recheck all their equipment, and know their limits.

  10. Another excellent post Eric. Firstly, let me re-state my opinion that adventure does not always necessarily equal life-threatening. An accident is simply that…an accident, whether it happens on the highway or on a cliff. In neither activity is death the goal. Adventuring is not new, it’s always been a part of what makes us human. It will not go away.

    What is relatively new is more and more travel agencies offering extreme adventure get-aways. It’s important to look into these agencies and see if they can be trusted. Don’t think just because someone has a certificate or a professional looking facility that they know what they’re doing. Guidelines for obtaining these certificates vary from country to country. I personally can’t equate adventure with having price tag, and have no need for someone else to ‘plan’ my adventure.

    Knowing my limits, and willing to push them, I prefer to solo ..but when adventuring with others I prefer people who know me, who will push me, but who would never try to bully me. (Besides…I’m not very easy to bully.)

    1. Very practical approach, Alex. And great point on the travel agencies!

      Part of the problem I personally encounter is defining my limits. Adventure is defined by pushing boundaries, so just when I feel OK with one limit, I experience this indefinable urge to push the limit just a little more.

      Fortunately, I do so in small increments these days, as opposed to being young and dumb and just throwing myself into a situation. I have these built-in “check points,” if you will, that help guide my decision making process. How do you go about pushing your limits and staying alive?

      1. I’m not sure that you can Eric. I mean, it’s a percentage game. Keep pushing the limits and chances are that eventually you’ll get a bad roll of the dice. There are things you can do to lessen this chance….which is one of the coolest things about your blog….you give solid heads-up advice for adventuring. There is no shortage of names we could mention though of people who’ve died while pursing things they love.

        Speaking of which…are you familiar with Christopher McCandless and his story?
        I would be interested to know your opinion.

  11. I respect the email sender’s point of view on this matter. Sir Eric, I want you do know that I am one of those people who “engage” brain when doing an adventure. I mean, in each “dangerous” (as considered by some) daredevil challenge that I do, I see to it that I can do it physically and mentally. I already have my fair share of adventures which I don’t think I could ever do so I didn’t.

    The bottomline is, not all people who do death defying acts are just adrenaline driven. Most of the time, they do it with PREPARATION and with their brains in it.

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