It's kind of disheartening how quickly reintegration can happen, and the experience of just a few hours ago gets shoved into the box of distant memories. Even last night as I was making camp, the day's efforts on the mountains seemed much further in the past than they were. Maybe that's why it is so important to keep on doing things as often as possible: trying to keep that feeling of adventure alive. Or maybe it is so I don't feel like I'm going to spend the rest of my life talking about that one time I did something that, for an ordinary guy like me, was extraordinary.
I like to take a journal with me on some of my adventures. The passage above was written on July 5th, the evening after I got home from my short backpacking trip in Indian Peaks. The "reintegration" it talks about is, of course, the return to normal life, its mundane duties, and a society that's disconnected from my most emphatic experiences.
I think I have a bit of a problem: when I'm out hiking, climbing, running, riding, I feel more connected to life as it should be. I am in the moment. I am at home. Everyday life is starting to feel less and less like Normal and more like an interruption from what I'm supposed to be doing.
Let's say there are two types of adventurers. The first we'll call Weekend Warriors. These are the people who have more-or-less typical Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 jobs, and during their free time they go out and immerse themselves as well as they can in their outdoor pursuits. The second type we'll call Dirtbags. This is the full-time tribe of devotees who eschew the draw of civilization and worldly goods, sacrificing modern comforts in favor of fulfilling their passion. Some of these people are professionals and get paid or sponsored to share their experiences with the rest of us. But however glamorous the lifestyle may appear at first glance, very few of these people become wealthy by their endeavors. They do what they do out of love of their trade, even if it means living out of a van for much of the year.
I'm firmly entrenched in the former camp. I have a day job, a family, a home in the suburbs. It isn't a bad life. To the contrary, there are many things to love about the comforts and privileges I enjoy. But it isn't always easy bouncing back and forth between adventure and what I often perceive as the mundane.
The trouble I have after returning from an adventure of any kind is that the feeling of freedom is so quickly subdued. By the time I've driven from the mountains back to my house, everything I've experienced has begun to fade from the forefront of my mind into the vaguer pool of memories. And I'm afraid that I've become addicted to the feeling of new memories being forged rather than old memories being remembered and relived.
What can be done about this?
A common pitfall is to dream of all the things that can be done after retirement. Once we've fulfilled our obligations to society through a lifetime of productivity, we will be free to pursue whatever adventures we choose without the leash that leads us back to "normal" life. It is said that youth is wasted on the young. And I believe too often the inverse is also true: retirement is wasted on the old. If I do nothing now, I'll be in no shape to do anything when I'm old.
Dropping out is another tempting fantasy: quit the job, sell the house, live the vagabond life of a Dirtbag. Barring some drastic life change being imposed from the outside, I think that decision has to be made earlier in life. It wouldn't be fair to my family to force them into a lifestyle that is decidedly more attractive to me than to them.
All I can do is play the hand I'm dealt: continue to appreciate and enjoy the opportunities I have to experience the wonders that surround me, whether they're found in the wild places of the world or right here at home. Dissatisfaction is a slippery slope that can only rob me of the gifts I have been given or earned. And after all, not only am I always forging new memories - some of the most precious kind - with my family, but I am playing a part in molding the memories my kids will (hopefully) cherish in years to come.