Joining the Dots
I write from a concrete bench outside Honolulu airport, a building I’ve become quite familiar with over the past couple of days, without choice. Three extra days in Hawaii might seem like a blessing, but I should actually be one and a half days into another journey, a short one this time, 105 miles along the Wolf River which trickles through swamps and undergrowth before flowering and meandering towards Memphis, Tennessee.
Thankfully, my relationship with HNL airport only began as I attempted to leave the State. As with most new dots on a map I’m lucky enough to translate into real-life experiences, my first glimpse of Hawaii was from the surface. The fifth dimension of my Expedition1000 project fell into place little more than ten weeks ago, but in that time a crew of 11 was assembled to ensure safe passage of the scientific yacht Sea Dragon from Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, to the Pacific island of Oahu.
I had multiple motives for wanting to sail out into the middle of the ocean. Another 1000 miler was a nice bonus but this wasn’t about ticking off an item from a list, my base objective was to size up the middle of the ocean. How do I feel out there? Do I get seasick? Am I still the same ‘me’ 1000′s of miles from land and all the demands it brings. Can I climb to the top of the mast? And most importantly, can I row across this much water?
Dan is soon to experience the sheer inadequacy of being in the middle of the ocean. I felt it and I was in a perfectly safe capsule – like a sailing Truman Show. To swim across open seas for months on end is something I had no desire to do before this sailing voyage and nothing has changed. I love the feeling of human insignificance in a precise moment when stood up against nature. To be a dot floating on our planet takes every ounce of man-made pressure off. I know Dan feels this, after tens of thousands of kilometres on a bicycle he has what it takes to put his head down and keep going, but the decision to take the first step (or in this case, stroke) always comes from a gut instinct that there’s something more out there.
We are all habitual creatures, whether we think about it or not. To someone who lives the same life day in day out Dan’s idea to swim the Atlantic seems foolhardy, crazy, even worthless. To someone else who is accustomed to the challenges of adventure, Dan’s Global Triathlon is nothing more than a fine mixture of a continuing need for solid character-building and common sense.
What? Common sense?! Well, yes! Look around you. Unless you’re in the middle of a desert (or, indeed, the ocean) the things you’re looking at are man made. We’ve entirely fabricated the world in which we live: our lives, our systems, the way we spend our precious time here. Once upon a time the construction of a building from a non natural material would have seemed groundbreaking. Metal tubes with wings that fly people around the globe? Laughable. Light bulbs. Flares. Women doing the hunting. Reaching the peak of Everest. All concepts that once seemed ridiculous, impossible, nonsense. Now they’re commonplace.
Swimming the Atlantic is unlikely to become a popular pastime or even an annual race, but if Dan can make it across imagine the people it will affect. ‘A man swum across the Atlantic, therefore I can see myself doing that marathon. ‘We’re all dots floating around trying to make sense of the world around us and how we fit into it, but sometimes an enormous feat throws a whole bunch of dots together and completes a chunk of the puzzle. It’s human evolution, it’s what we’re here for. A small but resolute band of men and women have decided to make their life work from adventure, each journey and project and endeavour spreading the seed a little further.
I believe adventure – and by definition I mean the pushing of personal boundaries and the open acceptance of attempting new things – is a critical tool in our fight against the lazy world in which we live. Technology and comfy sofas have dulled the natural perception of our surroundings and therefore we have far less engagement with the environment and nature than our predecessors. We may be developing slates that we can interact with and spectacles that tell us where we should be going, but will we ever be able to artificially reproduce the pure peace that comes with sitting carefree beside a river, or the soul satisfaction of swimming underwater and staring up in amazement at the way a surface looks from below?
I’ve spread my limits around. At the same time that Dan is swimming the Atlantic I’ll also be swimming, but down a river with the current. Size up my 50 day expedition with Dan’s multi-month epic and there’s no comparison in endeavour at all, but the key is to find the challenge and the passion that makes us purr as individuals. Dan’s after the longest swim in history, I want to know how it feels to be in the water for a month and a half. Either way, we’ll both look like prunes when we’re done.
As long as I don’t get bumped off my twenty-third flight in a row, I should be flying out of Hawaii in a couple of hours. From there I’ll join up with the crew who have already begun to paddle the Wolf River and once we reach Memphis I’ll ready myself for another journey, 1001miles to Miami by Bikecar. Had you asked me eight years ago whether I’d be prepared to accept a 4-wheeled bicycle from a smiling Northern stranger and then ride off into the sunrise with the goal of picking up random Southerners along the way I would have laughed in your face and reclined into my sofa-sized beanbags. These days, it’s the type of opportunity I have for breakfast. I much prefer these habits, one minute a dot in the ocean, the next a dot on a long, straight road. Even though Dan is twice the size of me, I wish his dot’s journey well. Adventure on and be safe, my friend.