I woke up on a recent morning thinking about the road trip my brother and I made to Colorado in 1964. A blog post by my friend Dave Olesen, a bush pilot and dogsledder who lives on Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories, had prompted the memory.
In his post, Olesen was reflecting on some of his early trips and how inexperienced he was. And that yanked me back to the mid-60s, when my younger brother and I headed for Colorado from our small town in Kansas. It was the first time our parents had turned us loose for that kind of an adventure.
We drove the Buick LeSabre as far as we dared into the mountains. We had long since passed a sign that said, “Passenger car travel not advised beyond this point.” The road was gravel and loose rock, hardly wide enough for the car, just clinging to the side of the mountain.
We had no destination, you understand. We were just going into the mountains. We were flatlanders. This was raw adventure — the two of us, a cooler of Pepsi, plenty of hot dogs.
We eventually found a tiny pull-out and decided to pitch our tent there. Space was at such a premium that we had to guy off one end of the tent to the car door. The other end of the tent was perched at the edge of what seemed a bottomless abyss.
We must have cooked supper. Maybe we went hiking. If so, I do not recall that. We endured the night — no storms, no drama — and headed back down the next morning. But that was enough. We had crossed some sort of psychological, if not physical, boundary. We had camped in the mountains on our own. We were, in our simple way of thinking, almost mountain men now. Hardy backcountry adventurers.
Olesen, a bush pilot and dogsledder, writes in his blog post (bushedpilotblog.wordpress.com) that on a recent flight assignment he found himself in a remote part of the Northwest Territories. He realized, upon reflection, that he’d been there before, on a dogsled trip in 1981.
“I can’t honestly say I recall anything specific about those days here, then,” Olesen wrote. “As I try, I find again that it is always a little painful to envision my younger self, brash as I was back then. So green and yet so confident. My opinions outweighed my experience by a staggering ratio … I think back to our gear, our dogs, our methods, and I can only wonder that we made it as far as we did — and came to no harm.
“Oh well, no need to be sheepish. We all begin somewhere.”
He would go on to run the Iditarod sled-dog race in Alaska eight times.
I find my friend’s memories reassuring. I look back on my early ramblings in the North Woods and feel the same way: We had no idea how much we didn’t know.
“So green and yet so confident.”
Apparently, we knew just enough not to get ourselves into real trouble, or at least how to extricate ourselves from any jams. We asked a lot of questions along the way. We paid attention to the stories of those who had overcome serious setbacks.
Which always brings me back to the familiar Will Rogers quote: “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”
The point, it seems, is to keep having those experiences, to keep putting yourself out there in situations where you’re not sure exactly how things will turn out. Some people might call that adventure. Some might simply call it learning.
Whatever you call it, it’s a really good place to be.