Monday, August 15, 2011

The path to adulthood

Growing up is hard. There’s so much to figure out, and the adults don’t understand. Everything is a crisis. The teen years are the worse. School is boring. You can’t drive. The kid games are no fun and the adult games are off limits. The worse thing for me was being told it was the best time of my life and I’d better enjoy it. How’s that for a depressing thought?

A few things kept me sane: Hiking in the mountains, hunting, fishing, snowshoeing and especially white water canoing. I loved time on the river. Often I paddled my boat alone through the rapids. The adrenaline rush is something I knew I needed. What I also craved, but didn’t realize until years later, was being in control of my canoe through rough waters. Teenagers have so little control over things. Mastering white water did much for sense of well being.

High School guidance councilors push the kids with good grades on a college path. My grades were decent, not through any love of school, but because I wanted to get through it without having to repeat anything. It was the same motivation that prisoners have for good behavior: early release.

One semester was enough for me to realize I wasn’t ready for college. In fact, I didn’t go back to college until I was 37. At 18, it like more high school and I’d just gotten out of that. Fortunately, I landed a job with the local Fire Department. I made a living, had time off to enjoy the outdoors, but the job itself was hugely satisfying. Fire and rescue provided that adrenaline rush I craved. Even though I eventually was badly injured on the job, I don’t regret my career choice. Beats the heck out of shriveling to death in a cubical.

It’s a good thing I didn’t discover sailboats back then. I’d have disappeared at sea. Probably would have either bought an old fix ‘er upper boat or built my own in my dad’s garage. Sailing fills the needs of my soul. It’s on the water, which is where I belong, be it a small river or the ocean. A sailboat is cheap way to go to new places and meet new people. There’s the sense of discovery and adventure. When the wind comes up, the waves build and spray flies, the heart beats a bit faster and I feel more alive.

Growing boys today have it even tougher than I did. They don’t have anywhere near the freedom that I had growing up. Everything is “safe” taking away the chance to learn from mistakes. Nothing like bruises and scraps to teach lessons. Activities are scripted and supervised. No wonder they get lost in computer games. It’s the only time they get to win at anything. Virtual world adrenaline rushes have to substitute for real world adventure. Today, the feelings I had growing up would be managed with drugs. I didn’t need drugs, I needed a fast river, a good canoe and a strong paddle.

I hope to heck that some of today’s kids find their way off the beaten track. They have to know disdain for the “normal” is fine. Heck, most of the people working in firefighting or EMS ain’t right. That’s what makes them good at their jobs. You don’t have to like everyone else. It’s a big world. There might be something out there for you.

Maybe it’ll be messing around in boats.



  1. the only good thing about the teenage years, was i had 2 working parents who supported me, i didnt need to find money to pay bills, that aside i think life just gets better and better. my partner did sailing, on p-class and moth. he said, your on the water and its you that has to get your but home, youre self reliant and youve got to think! have a look at this... its some fotos i took earlier this year, mostly boys i think, out on the rapids having fun, they spent ages just doing turns, we watched for a good half hour before they followed 3 lots of rafts down the river, good clean fun. wrapping kids in cotton wool and making it all "safe" has taken away some serious life skills about boundaries, limits, pain, survival. bring back the rough and tumble, the climbing trees and being "boys" (and girls too)

  2. Good photos. Nice park you have there. Beautiful country.

  3. I was in a canoe before I learned to walk. I was brought up the right way (grin).

  4. It's rare to see a kid outside anymore, much less up a tree or something. I damn near had a heart attack when I actually saw a kid walking down by the water, ALONE, with a fishing pole and a bucket with a cast net.

    My teenage thrills came from piloting my Dad's boat. I got pretty darn good at it too, and learned how to read the water both inshore and offshore. It took a few spine crunching jolts, but those jolts taught me the proper way to tackle big waves. Inshore, a few nicks in the prop and paint removed from the skeg taught me to recognize shoals and sandbars by the way the water behaves over and around them. Eventually I even learned to anticipate where they would likely be, though there are still some surprises out there, especially in unfamiliar water. Yep, getting out there young and doing things is a key part to growing up.

  5. all that you said is so true but it is also very applicable for many girls too!

    thanks! it is nice knowing that there are others out there like me!