Realizing Hidden Passions

I never knew this about myself …

Jughandle Arch, Upper East Canyon – Zion NP, UT

Humans are complex creatures with most of that complexity often hidden from view. Potential talents and passions can exist below the surface that may never be expressed as we go through life. Then again, perhaps they can emerge under the right conditions, if given the chance.

Such an experience of self-discovery happened to me later in my life. It was my good fortune to explore a love of nature and wilderness that I had not been especially receptive to in earlier days. I learned that something profound had been there all along, waiting for my attention. When I finally began to venture out into the wild, I eventually let in the clarity inherent in these majestic settings. In the past, I believed these types of endeavors were too hard or rough, or that even lower-impact activities in the natural world were just not for me. Maybe you do too.

I understand how you feel. I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy a lifetime of travel that has given me priceless experiences. My work for international businesses provided the opportunity to visit countries and cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. I’ve seen amazing architecture and history, and have met people from many walks of life. In my late twenties I took an assignment to live in Japan for six months, which gave me an invaluable perspective of the world.

Later, as my sons Jeremy and Alex grew older, and I settled down with my new wife Janet, and extended family, we created fresh memories cruising through tropical islands and dreaming the time away on the beautiful beaches of the mid-Atlantic coast. I’m incredibly grateful to have had all of these wonderful times in such places.

Yet my travels were always about business, culture and relaxation. I was never much of an outdoorsman. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that I thought a carabiner was an admirer of the Caribbean. Once or twice, Janet and I did discuss a vague mutual desire to visit the Grand Canyon though it always remained an undefined event somewhere beyond the horizon of our lives.

While we were all occasionally relaxing in paradise, during college, Alex was also taking road trips, driving from our home on the east coast to the western states. He would return from these excursions fired up as I had never seen him. To me, he seemed a bit like a crazed late-night TV pitchman selling Ginsu knives, with all his babbling about the canyons, mountains, and big sky.

Craig at start of Halfdome Cables
Alex & Craig on Saddle Canyon hike in the Grand Canyon

As he approached his senior year, Alex got the notion that I should join him on an epic father-son road trip so he could show me what he had seen. My reaction was less than enthusiastic; I had been perfectly happy laying on a beach and letting the ocean lull me to sleep. Not only that, but somehow he thought I should make this trip a gift to him for graduating with a certain GPA (which he could predict within a few hundredths of a point anyway since he was in his last term). Wait a minute!, I thought. Didn’t supporting his education count as the gift?

In the years that followed, Alex would hound me often about the trip, insisting that I had somehow promised this to him. And I would continue to demur. Then, one day, I surprised myself by suddenly thinking, why not? I was entering my sixties and I realized that the window on a bonding opportunity like this could close quickly as I got older and Alex got a little further into adulthood. So, to his shock and delight, I agreed. In June 2018, we rafted though the Grand Canyon for a week and then drove through Death Valley to Yosemite for some epic hiking. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now that I’ve become that passionate believer in whom others see the maniacal pitchman, I remind Alex that all of this is his fault. In each succeeding year we’ve taken several more trips to immerse ourselves in the wonders of nature. Janet and I spent a magical two weeks in and around the Grand Canyon in a much more impactful way than we had ever imagined. I had a similar father-son bonding experience with Jeremy as we traveled through the incredible Everglades and Florida Keys. More such trips followed, including a family excursion through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, as well as several subsequent immersions in the astonishing terrain of Southern Utah. I even became a photography enthusiast because of the limited chances to be able to capture these images of unparalleled splendor.

Our approach is based mainly on day-level excursions of varying types and intensity, with a return to comfortable lodging each night. We have experienced some fantastic multi-day wilderness outings but these are all guided. While there can be significant preparation involved, we don’t try to take on the logistics and navigation for areas in which extensive expertise and local knowledge are required. We are also not about long-haul trips into the backcountry or more extreme wilderness adventures (although I love watching videos and reading about them).

Craig & Janet at Toroweap, Grand Canyon, overlooking Lava Falls Rapid almost 2 miles away, which we had rafter the day before

The main idea is that one can enjoy and benefit from the many dimensions of the wild, whether maintaining an easier pace or increasing the challenges as desire and comfort dictate. The resulting awe and inspiration from the grandeur of nature will be the same in any case.

Jeremy leading the way through the mangroves in the Buttonwood Canal, Everglades

It’s also important to highlight other vital benefits that are sure to accompany a meaningful relationship with the wilderness. Some will accrue from the preparation one needs in order to have a safe and rewarding experience. A reasonable level of fitness is required to hike, raft, and otherwise be on the move frequently during these journeys. Also, learning occurs at many levels that tends to be quite gratifying – about wilderness gear and best practices, geology and topology, wildlife, history, government policy, and so on. Acquiring new skills, such as photography, also may come with wilderness undertakings. And, perhaps most important, is the changed perspective on life one gains by developing an appreciation and reverence for our earthly treasures.

Look inside and see for yourself.

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