Always Detour for Adventure
My new job required me to travel to our facilities around the world and develop every opportunity for well logging services. Mr. Wilson was wise enough to know that his visits to overseas offices were formal, somewhat superficial meetings. As the big boss, he heard from managers, customers, and others with corporate agendas but felt fenced off from the realities of business in some regions. He wanted a ground-level perspective on each operation and the people who worked there. Consequently, he instructed me to spend three weeks of every month in the field gathering intelligence and one week in Dallas filing reports on my findings. I would headquarter in Texas and travel the world, get outside of offices and hotels, and into the working and living space of the foreign countries in which we had a presence.
It seemed too good to be true. My employer was going to pay all my expenses and compensate me handsomely to travel the world. Not just one location, but every shop on practically every continent on Earth. As a young man, I thought about, dreamed about, made plans to explore the world and discover its best-kept secrets. It was the coolest lifestyle I could imagine; having a passport and a briefcase and an office that was usually empty, speaking foreign languages, eating exotic foods, and gallivanting in places reserved for daring and dangerous men. And when it happened, when those things became realities in my life, they arrived full speed and scale. There was no time to apprentice. Before my thirtieth birthday, I accepted the position and became an international hand.
It took a couple of years to put it all together but I found friends in all my favorite places in the world. I sought out someone in every shop who was into the local activities scene. And it seemed like every duty station had something special to do locally. Literally, there was adventure waiting in every port around the world. It could be a climb or a dive or a long weekend on the town but there was always a good reason to add days to my trip, to extend my knowledge of the area. I built a social foundation for exploring the world and was changed by how well it worked. I lived to fully experience all the things and places that excited me. And the things that excited me changed over time and the boundaries moved out. The world’s landmarks seemed exotic my first time around, but on my second or third trip, I began wandering off the beaten path… where tour buses wouldn’t go, but a taxi driver might for a big tip.
While expanding my horizons geographically, I grew as an adventurer, too. Each destination had its own hidden treasure, its unique opportunity for fun. Dozens of explorations and escapades – each a valued addition to any collection. I made it a priority to experience the eccentric, lesser known adventures. Not just run-of-the-mill excursions to Kilimanjaro or Machu Pichu, but rarely heard of undertakings in places hard to find. In my dotage, I would revisit adventures via my journals where the backstory was as interesting as the tale. I wanted to climb the remote and unfamiliar, dive in the mysterious, bushwhack the Back of Beyond. Traveling the world exposed every facet of my hyperactive imagination.
Like attracts like… its cosmic law. And as I travelled the world, I met the people I needed to meet to find my way to adventure. Many times, I was able to enjoy an exciting activity because somebody local set it up. In Aberdeen, I met Forrest Templeton, a mild-mannered geologist with wire-framed glasses and a passion for mixed climbing in the Scottish crags. During a trip to our office in the Grey City, I struck up a conversation with him during lunch at the cafeteria. He offered to take me on a climb in the Grampian Mountains during one of my business trips, so I made sure to schedule a few extra days the next time I worked in Aberdeen. As agreed, we met by a local in Braemar just outside the Cairngorms National Park. He brought friends and, after breakfast, I rode with them to Lochnagar. We parked close and geared up in a shack at the base of the mountain
It wasn’t much to look at on approach; a cranky wall off in the frosty distance. As we got closer, however, I could see where the rock was broken and ragged and gullies ripped raw from the granite. Forrest and I split off from the other team to the routes we had selected for the day.
Lochnagar was well-known to alpinists because of the abundance of mixed climbing, which was climbing rock and ice with ice equipment. A small rock knob would have to be leveraged with a metal crampon point instead of rubber boot, or the pick of an axe instead of fingers. Ice coated the rock, though in some places it was bare. Sometimes a spillway allowed a few meters of unbroken ice, but most of the climbing was mixed. My picks clung tenuously to the curtain of frozen water in the gully; seldom could I drive them deeply and safe. Crampons scraped the rock in vain to find purchase and rarely more than a front-point. I had made mixed climbing moves in Wyoming, but never worked so hard for so long as on that frozen day in Scotland.
I was a good not great climber. To the casual observer, I appeared like all the rest. And I was as capable as any, stronger than most. I was good in the sense that I knew technically what I was doing. I was smart enough to stay out of trouble and carry my share. I could handle what the situation dictated. But great climbers knew that I had my limitations; I could follow almost anything but was slow on lead. I was limited on lead. I was not a ‘first ascent’ kind of climber. My lack of aplomb, however, did not prevent me enjoying climbing for its sheer value as an adventure.
Watching Forrest chimney the gully with one foot on slick rock and the other on spikes, a bare hand balancing his body as he reached with his axe for ice in a crack over his head, I realized the route would require more than brute strength. The only exposure I had to the techniques he leveraged was what was happening real-time before my eyes, so I studied his movements as though my life depended on it. He was a thinking man, more balletic than bullish, and his sequences were things of art. Forrest looked relaxed, almost contemplative as he used all the space around him. He pushed and pulled and angled his way up Lochnagar. I followed, always struggling to keep calm and confident in the ridiculously thin protection. For hours, we inched up the gully, wrapped in Scotland’s frozen fog. It was surprisingly intricate for so brutal an environment. We climbed less than a thousand meters that day but etched a lasting memory.
(Excerpts from “When I Was Cool”)