I used to tell everyone that I’m an outdoor guide and a general lover of the wilderness. Then I’d talk all about the cool expeditions I’ve been on. These days, however, I find myself spending a little more time listening and watching, gaining inspiration from others. Here’s my story about a man and his stories:
Last summer, while working as an outdoor guide on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, I went hiking with a wonderful group of clients that included a very old man. This man had to walk slowly and use trekking poles for balance, and his voice quivered so much that it was often difficult to understand him. He and I started talking about canoes, and I learned that he had spent decades of his life traveling to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness each summer. I’ve spent a lot of time guiding in the Boundary Waters, so we had many experiences in common. We had paddled the same lakes. We loved the same cliffs. We’d struggled through the same tough portages. After he had told amazing stories for a while, with the other clients chiming in to ask him questions, I asked the man if he still went on canoe camping trips. He shook his head. “I sold my canoe,” he said, “I’m not strong enough anymore to drag it ashore. And I need help to step in and out. It will only get worse.”
All of this conversation had taken place on a 1-mile hike. The man very carefully navigated the uneven terrain. He was slow but steady, and we had enough time. At the end of the hike, we reached a canoe that would take us back to where we had started. It was a windy day, and the canoe was an 8-person, fiberglass hulk. It was well-designed, but nonetheless its size made it difficult to steer. Normally, I would ask the clients to sit in the front and paddle, while I sat in the back and steered. I hesitated for a moment because I didn’t know if he was strong enough. I decided to take the risk, knowing I could switch places if necessary, and helped him into the back seat of the canoe. I sat in front with the other clients – who cheerfully agreed to this unusual situation – and relinquished the steering to him.
He fumbled for a moment as we paddled away from shore, swinging the canoe off course. I kept paddling without attempting to help him yet, and was rewarded by the realization that he was indeed a masterful paddler. Using almost no effort, never switching sides, he angled the cheap rental paddle perfectly and made each paddle-stroke effective. He got accustomed to the large canoe almost immediately and straightened us out, rocketing back to the lodge where we had started. I’m an expert at canoeing, but he was far more skilled than me.
In very little time, we reached our destination and he carved the canoe smoothly into shore, positioning us perfectly parallel to the beach. I got out and then helped the clients exit. The man was smiling. He thanked me in his quavering voice, then began his slow, careful, probably painful walk back to his room.
I watched him leave and wondered how many amazing adventures he had experienced in his long lifetime. No doubt, there were too many for him to brag about. He had watched the sun rising over hundreds of lakes, maybe thousands – I’ll never know. In addition, his adventures were continuing to happen, creating new stories for him to tell.
These days, I don’t care whether others perceive me as being an awesome adventurer. Why? Because I’ve realized that the world is full of quiet people who’ve done incredible things. I want to be like those people. I want to listen more than I speak. I want to encourage others more than I demand encouragement. I want to hear the adventure stories that you can tell, and relive what you have accomplished. And maybe, if we have time, we’ll drink some tea or beer or something, and I’ll tell you my stories too. I’ve got some good ones.
This week, I did some adventurous things. What I will remember most, however, is that the sunrise has been especially beautiful three days in a row, throwing color over the misty creek outside my tent. There is a small raccoon that lives nearby; sometimes I watch her shelling and eating fallen pecans from the grass. There’s a species of spider here that walks on the ground at night and sparkles under the light of my headlamp. Almost every night, I hear mysterious screechy-sneezing noises that make me think of a baby dinosaur wandering around outside the tent. This place is great.
Don’t worry about being more accomplished as an adventurer. Just get out (or stay in!) and have fun. And when you meet people, don’t forget to listen to their stories. Whether they’ve adventured in the Arctic or in the heart of New York City, chances are high that they’ve done some pretty cool stuff.
Saeward Schillaci is a professional writer and editor. She is the founder of Northwoods Editing, which specializes in helping businesses create quality written content. Currently, Saeward lives on a permaculture farm near Menard, TX with an assortment of animals including humans, dogs, cats, chickens, feral peacocks, and armadillos. In her spare time, she enjoys canoeing, climbing, creative writing, swimming, and whittling.