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Small Adventures

It seems that almost every day news emerges of another person’s monumental wilderness undertaking. Solo speed ascents. Trans-Atlantic paddle boarding attempts. Global circumnavigations by helmsmen who still trick-or-treat.

While reasons abound to admire such grandiose efforts, I can’t help but think that outdoor endeavors as bold as what we’re seeing today, in some ways, are merely shallow reflections of our country’s pursuit of what’s always bigger and best. When did self-discovery and affection for the wonderment of what’s outside become such a collective effort to take greater and greater risks? Personal goals are one thing. As long as they’re actually personal. I’m sensing other motivations.

Perhaps it’s the prospect of fame that has now filtered its way into the motives of today’s Lewises and Clarks. Or maybe I’m not one to question the legitimacy of those who aim for the unprecedented. But I can say without equivocation that there is often as much to be discovered in what is easy to obtain. The little adventures, if would.

Last week on a family visit slash business trip to upstate New York, I found myself planning an impromptu float trip down the Mohawk Valley’s West Canada Creek. My wife’s sister’s family in tow, we collected cheap inflatables from a KOA camp store, loaded the mini-van and drove to our put-in. By age, we had three kids and four adults. By sense of adventure, it was kids only.

My nephews, 15 and 12, charged at every frisky rapid the broad stream could offered with the rare kind of enthusiasm found in kids too old to be afraid and still young enough for it to not suck.

My wife, her sister and brother-in-law cruised with the current under branches and bridges as the sun darted in between cotton bunches of cumulus, discussing with mustered levity the health of my wife’s father, not yet a week out of quadruple bypass surgery. The stream offered the best kind of solace.

With my ten-year-old niece’s hand locked tight in mine, we floated tube-to-tube behind the group, taking in everything the wooded creekside had to offer and rooting for the pockets of frolicking white water to pull us along. I found it easy to emulate her excitement. We were both ten.

We spotted herons, a Mallard family and even twice watched a bald eagle scan the bank pools for a stout New York State rainbow.

My niece is only four years younger than Laura Dekker, a Dutch teen who just set off to sail around the world by herself.

It would be easy to think that Dekker has set off to take the world by storm. And she very well might. A girl, that theoretically my niece could sit next to on the bus to school, is piloting a sailboat around the world alone. My niece, meanwhile, sits butt-deep on a six-dollar inflated tube of glued plastic in a stream that varies from shallow to shallower.

Yet, she told me that she felt like the luckiest girl in the stream. I know I sure felt lucky. And Godspeed to Laura Dekker. And may she still find joy in creek tubing after her solo sailboat trip around Earth. But I wonder, whose hand will she hold in the rapids?

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