Fetching a Pail of Water: Two Types of Thrill Seekers
I got off work early and went for a run along our local waterway. While wrapping up my run – after a depressing chest cramp reminded me that twenty-five is not the new eighteen, I crossed paths with an interesting young couple carrying an inflatable tandem kayak to the base of the severely flooded bayou.
People carrying kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards naturally spark my interest. I make it a challenge to myself to rattle off the make and model before the boat gets close enough to get a good look. But this was different. Instead of my attention focusing on the boat, my attention was fully focused on reeling my lower jaw back into its closed and upright position. There is no way these noobs were going to try to paddle this flash flood, right?
Here is some perspective. Over the last four days, central Texas has been slammed by rain about as bad as this city has seen since Hurricane Ike in 2008. The rain has since filled up all of the rivers, lakes, and bayous. This water, now landed, is en route through South Texas – and through Houston – to its final beach bash in the Gulf of Mexico. The city – while good at producing heartbreaking sports moments and even better at whipping up a hearty plate of Tex-Mex food – is about as good at flood control and water drainage as Kanye West is at conceding defeat.
This brings us back to the overly ambitious couple, the couple that too few ‘we-know-what-we’re-doing’ beams were radiating off of.
Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill
I don’t know exactly what it is; my work in the paddlesports industry has cursed me with an internal line of judgmental code that quickly tosses all of a person’s outward characteristics, gear in hand, clothing, and other unmeasurable variables into an algorithm somewhere in the depths of my brain that I use to quickly gauge their paddling ability to a relatively accurate level. It’s my job and, well, Jack and Jill didn’t even move the needle.
Look, I’m a sucker for a good CFS flow – the measurement of cubic feet the river flows per second. I’ll chase high water with the best of them, but this was just stupid. There is a point where hunting shreddy conditions turns to putting yourself in danger, and Jack and Jill were climbing to Miley Cyrus level on the I’m-going-to-regret-doing-this scale.
By now, most people around the park realized this was a terrible idea backed by a lack of experience, control, and proper equipment. Jack loaded the off-brand inflatable kayak down onto the halfway submerged staircase, gracefully helped Jill assume her seat at the bow, and grabbed their two paddles that screamed: “I just rented these from the YMCA thirty minutes ago.” They snapped a couple of selfies, ignored the constant barrage of warnings from people on the walking trails, and started to paddle.
It’s Hard to Fetch Water with an Upside Down Pail, Jack
I watched in silence as they continued to ignore warnings from other onlookers. They didn’t want to hear any warnings because, well, they were in charge. In their eyes, the flooded river was just an outlet for them to assert their control and catch a cheap thrill. Their confidence was strange to me; in my eyes the river was an angry, powerful, and unpredictable beast that was in full control of their fate.
They continued to laugh off the onslaught of oncoming warnings as I silently rehearsed the laundry list of information I would tell them if we met again in a parallel universe where they were willing to listen.
- “This river is flowing 30 feet higher and thousands CFS faster than usual, guys. I paddle and I would never paddle this flash flood. It’s beyond dangerous.”
- “Wear a PFD. This year hundreds of people have already died on kayaks in the USA. This includes many self-proclaimed ‘strong swimmers’ and young, athletic people.”
- “You’re not the first rebel to try paddling this flash flood. Just yesterday, two kayakers died in Austin doing the same thing. Yeah, they died. Like, dead in the ground before they could even tell their friends about it…”
- “That inflatable kayak is crap. I’ll bet that thing turns into a bed comforter before you even realize there is a puncture.”
- “There is a sharp left turn up there in about half of a mile. I can imagine it is going to act like a regular cut bank. I wouldn’t dare paddle it but if you do, hold on tight and stay left when it pushes you right.”
I never said any of these out loud. They weren’t accepting other similar advice, so I didn’t give any of my own. I watched from about fifty feet away as they took off down the river and eased their way toward the center current line. The crowd of onlookers got quiet; they had given up trying to talk Jack and Jill out of fetching this pail of water.
Out of nowhere, it happened. “Your paddle is upside down” I quietly directed at Jack. To my surprise, Mr. Evil Kneivel-Aquaman-hybrid looked back toward me and turned his paddle around.
Falling Down and Breaking Crowns
I walked away. I didn’t care much to see the eventual successful takeout or the more likely broken crown with Jill coming tumbling after. They were receiving enough attention to keep their self-confidence fire fueled while also maintaining a safety net of concerned citizens ready to help call 911 at the first sign of danger. I had no need to be there anymore.
On my walk back home – yes, running was done for the day and I was already planning my evening of whiskey, writing, and Waylon Jennings – I looked at the river as a display of how terrifying and strong Mother Nature can be while stranded in confusion at how Jack and Jill looked at the same river as a carnival ride they could poke and prod an easy thrill from. It blew my mind, but it made me think.
People see their surroundings differently. When it comes to thrills, there are two types of people. There are the thrill provokers deliberately fomenting trouble and there are thrill disciples embracing a greater respect from the thrill.
In my mind, the perceived view of who is in charge separates the two classifications of adventurers. The first is classified as a thrill provoker; all things considered, the thrill provoker is motivated mostly by the quick, easy, thrill they can provoke out of their surroundings. In their eyes, they are provoking the trill, and they are in full control. They’re not worried by any potential consequences because they are in command. Negative consequences only happen to those not in complete control, right?
The second type is the thrill disciple. The thrill disciple is a person who authentically appreciates and respects the thrill and the dangers that go with it, not just the fact that it produces good stories and a social media post. Thrill disciples recognize they are just a follower, an adherent to the greater power, and that they are at the mercy of this power every second they are out chasing it. These people fully recognize they can positively impact their adventure through preparation, study, and proper equipment, but they are not in charge; they are just along for the ride.
Mending Heads – Vinegar and Brown Paper
Jack, Jill, and I sit on different sides of the table at this Thrill Seekers Anonymous meeting. While theirs is not my style, I understand that it is not wrong.
Wrong? No. Prone to failure? Maybe. Dangerous? In this case, yes.
All differences considered, I’ve noticed successful adventurers spend the majority of their time studying, practicing, and respecting their ‘greater power.’ Look, it’s not as Charles Manson as it sounds; it’s just an unselfish nature of the discipleship. Whether you’re paddling, fishing, walking, jumping, boarding, or riding, success comes from a simple recognition that you ultimately aren’t the one in charge.
The river is in charge. The fish is in charge; the wind is in charge; the terrain, the current, and the weather are in charge. We’re all just along for the ride.