Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

Post-expedition blues

Excerpt from adventurer Dave Cornthwaite's new book Life in the Slow Lane

The slump that chased my Mississippi paddle forced me to assess the dividing line between happiness and sadness, a chasm I have criss-crossed countless times since I decided to try and create a life with limitless boundaries. I’m not ashamed to say I fall helplessly and feather-like into lowness following most expeditions: recalculation and indeterminably slight depression claim my creativity, motivation and joy, despite unacceptable (but necessary) amounts of caffeine being poured into my system. It used to bother me but now I accept these post-journey grumps as part of the process and like any break up all you can do is be positive and let time apply the medicine.

These blues are both unsurprising and a worthy price to pay for the healthy, happy days of an expedition so full of challenge, vibrancy and newness. Only by refining how you judge beauty can you find contentment in black and white pictures after experiencing a full range of colour. Just as I lessen the bravery of my decision-making by viewing the possibility of failure as a positive, I embrace my depressive self wholeheartedly; partly because it’s cathartic, partly because nobody else will. Besides, contemplation is a dish best served when staring at one’s navel.

Had I remained behind a desk with my back to a third- floor wall – a cubicle mentality caressing the ambition-killing comfort that routine, regular paycheque and screensaver- with-exotic-beachscape served me daily – I wouldn’t know myself in the slightest. We westerners live in an age where the weak can survive for eight decades and where survival without trying is now a right. The gift of being born into fortune is often repaid by squandering endless opportunities, turning a blind eye to our dreams because they’re not sensible, and the acceptance of an innate fear and discouragement of peeking beyond the very lip of the box into which we were delivered. We rarely do ourselves justice. Innovators and creators are labelled as crazy. Such is the ease of modern day life we become ruthlessly fond of blaming others for everything that goes wrong in our lives, often without twitching a muscle in self help.

It pisses me off.

But that’s just because I was lucky enough to be caught slap bang in a turbulent confluence of ennui and despair, stale love, soul-destroying work and passionless personality. By the time I turned 25 my best story was that I’d been given two chickens for my 21st birthday and named them Tikka and Korma, there was no denying that I’d become a feckless loser. Once at rock bottom there was little more to lose, so I made something of myself. You lift one finger to the world with enough feeling and the rest of your body follows, and before you know it you’re setting up your own genius business or standing on a stage with a microphone or watching the general public file past paintings in your own exhibition, or you’re paddling a river, climbing a mountain, writing a book, waking up smiling.

We’re all brilliant if we allow ourselves to be. But we can’t create that shiny Best-In-Show version of ourselves unless we think and scrape and understand and enable our strengths and act on that unique combination of what we enjoy and who we are.

Had I remained behind that desk I wouldn’t have battled hypothermia in the Snowy Mountains, wading for days through thigh-deep snow just inches from a deathly drop-off, having expected nothing but a summer’s walk. I wouldn’t have taken the plunge and chased a girl overseas just to experience two weeks of shattering confusion and heartache in Mumbai. I’d never have believed I could recover from tipping my kayak in fast-moving water, then guide my fast- submerging craft to shore whilst retaining the attitude to address the waiting 6 foot Brown snake with an angry, ‘Piss off! I’ve got enough to deal with without you!’ I know every layer of myself and how I react when I’m almost dead, starving, in sheer emotional despair, suffering from immoveable fatigue, in grave danger, folded in physical agony, sensing faint hope, drawing on grit, in the midst of change, waking without knowing the whereabouts of my next bed, making 99% of an audience laugh (there’s always one person sleeping), experiencing happiness, thrill, joy, exultation. I know my equilibrium, I’m familiar with my lowest ebbs and I know I’ll never quite reach the top rung, but I’m content to continue climbing. I know myself inside and out and as a consequence, when something is up, I recognise it instantly and just as fast conclude to seek out a reason, then a solution to level my ground once more.

We’re all brilliant if we allow ourselves to be

Which is what I was up to in late 2011, hair still singed blonde from the Middle America sun, white eyebrows mercifully losing their distinction as my skin slowly faded back to its natural translucence. I was lost. Straight off the back of my favourite journey that had ticked every single box I now faced the opposing side of my reality. Home time. The in between expedition Dave. The Bruce Wayne to my Batman, the Peter Parker to my Spiderman, the Clark Kent to my Superman. There were two opposing halves to a puzzle that didn’t fit together and I needed an answer to cement the gaps. I was footloose and lacked stability. Two obvious factors were missing from the conventional side of my brain: a place to call my own and a partner to love. With one or both of these, I figured, I’d lessen uncertainty, increase independence and gain a consistency that would bridge my two worlds.

Visit Dave Cornthwaite’s website here: http://www.davecornthwaite.com/

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