Risk takers and adventurers are arguably the most exciting people in existence, but what motivates them to push themselves to their limits?
– by Kate Oatley.
Whenever I meet a person who likes to push themselves to their limits, I am torn between envy and absolute wonder. What on earth possesses them to challenge their boundaries, and why do I feel the urge to follow in their footsteps?
Their trips sound incredible, adventurous and rewarding, an experience of a lifetime. But there is no doubt that some elements of their stories sound frightening. In the 1980’s Helen Yarnall was ice climbing through 2000 feet of snow on the north face gully of Ben Nevis in the 1980s, she said the experience was “terrifying… it made me go through a variety of reactions, like tears, anger at being in that situation and then indifference… It ended well after dark… being at the end of a rope, a the bottom of a vertical ice wall that you had to climb or stay there forever… was surreal and awful.”
Yet, when I asked Helen if she thought about stopping after an ordeal like Ben Nevis, although she “called it quits on ice climbing”, there was no hint of throwing in the towel. In fact, even though she is now in her fifties, Helen is planning to complete the English Coast to Coast hike with husband Rob later this year. It may be slower paced than ice climbing, but a 190 mile walk across the Lake District, Pennines, and North Yorkshire Moores is not a trip to be taken lightly.
I often wonder why people like Helen choose to carry on with their adventures despite having experiences like Ben Nevis. Some motivations are purely for enjoyment; “it was love of mountains, the enjoyment of climbing and walking.” Certainly for things like Coast to Coast, the motivation is “scenery, wildlife, peace and quiet, and the opportunity to live in the present and de-stress. We only need concern ourselves with completing the allocated miles for the day.”
There is a deeper side, however. “Remember this was the early 1980s, there weren’t many female climbers or mountain rescue members and there was a certain desire to prove that women were very capable of mountaineering and climbing.”
The sense of adventure and independence is a huge motivator for those like Christian Mondeil, a close friend of Helen’s, who recently completed a 4400km cycling trip across seven countries in Europe including France, Spain, Germany, and Holland. “I like to do things that challenge me mentally and physically. I hate the way travel tour companies… scare people into thinking they can’t possibly achieve something on a big scale because they don’t have the equipment or expertise. You don’t need either, just some drive.”
Christian notes how the mental challenge accompanying or even driving these adventurous acts is the most important factor to control. “I am not strong physically… but I am very, very stubborn and it’s the never quit attitude that you really have to access if you are attempting anything that requires endurance.”
For Helen, enduring trying situations “makes you think about how you’d cope in life or death situations in the rest of your life – it probably reveals aspects of you that you’d never find out about otherwise.”
A lot of these adventurous acts have an element of danger involved, and it can seem like the people doing these things are adrenaline junkies. There is an element of this – even before joining the Army, Eddie Lyons often put himself in harms way for a kick. “Danger is attractive; it makes everything more real.”
Despite appearances, though, danger is not the compelling factor – it’s just another thing to deal with, and for many acts neither as an incentive or discourager. When Eddie goes rock climbing, he tells me, “I always say there are two ways to do it: the safe way and the dead way. Yes, doing dangerous things is definitely fun but risk mitigation is essential.”
For everyone, risk taking comes down to common sense. “If you have an awareness of your limitations then you don’t do anything stupid,” Christian tells me, “I would never put myself deliberately in harms way when I thought the threats were too great.”
Whatever it is that compels them, there is something highly addictive about pushing ones own limits. Whether they were in their twenties or sixties, not one person showed any intentions of stopping. “I might slow down as I start to scratch my head as to what to do next,” Christian offers.
They may make us shake our heads in disbelief every now and again, but we need adventurous people – society is made up of leaders and followers, and if we have no leaders we don’t advance. It’s no coincidence that leaders, like businessmen Richard Branson or world leaders like Barack Obama, tend to be risk takers.
There’s also no doubt that the passion and addiction for risk rubs off on those around adventurous people. In a way, they push us to take more risks and have more excitement in our own lives, and that can only take us to bigger and better places.
You can follow Helen and Rob’s Coast to Coast journey by reading their blog: http://coasttocoast30.net/
Header Image by Kumar Project; Cave Image by Learn.Ist; Flying Image by Sport Pursuit.