Sure, we do it in our ordinary lives, to -- you can get killed on your lunch break -- but we do that blindly. In our adventures, we engage fate deliberately. We choose a relentless and indefatigable opponent, while others pretend to be safe. We feel that your experiences are much more real, while seeing the masses as deluded in their complacency. When well trained people are fetched off by fate during a well planned and thoughtful expedition, there is no more ignominy in it that when an ordinary Joe gets hit by a bus. No one says, "He shouldn't have been walking there." But a climber named Karl Iwen, unfamiliar with Three Fingered Jack, a volcanic mountain in Oregon, which he was descending, left his companions, left the trail, left his ice ax strapped to his pack, and ventured out onto the snow, where he treated his companions to a spectacular show as he slid into the couloir and did a 600-foot Peter Pan. Karl did not die doing what he loved. He died of poor impulse control, or what I call "the rapture of the shallow."
The perfect adventure shouldn't be that much more hazardous in a real sense than ordinary life, for that invisible rope that holds us here can always break. We can live a life of bored caution and die of cancer. Better to take the adventure, minimize the risks, get the information, and then go forward in the knowledge that we've done everything we can.
No, some people would rather not see it, but the bull is there for all of us. Some of us choose to pass the cape in front of its horns. To live life is to risk it. And when you feel the rush of air and catch the stink of hot breath in your face, you enter the secret order of those who have seen their own death close up. It makes us live that much more intensely. So intense is it for some that it seals their fate; once they've tasted it, they just can't stop. And in their cases, perhaps we have to accept that the light that burns brightest burns half as long.
But I believe that if you do it right, you can have it all. I adhere to what my daughter Amelia calls the Gutter Theory of Life. It goes like this: You don't want to be lying in the gutter, having been run down by a bus, the last bit or you life ebbing away, and be thinking, "I should have taken that rafting trip . . ." or, "I should have learned to surf . . ." or "I should have flown upside down -- with smoke !"
Peter Conrad was the third man to walk on the moon. He died in a motorcycle accident on an ordinary day. It took him a while to die as he went to the hospital. I wonder what he was thinking. I hope it was: I did it all.
--"Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales