Sunday, 16 March 2008

Life is nothing but an adventure - especially if you're a blind pilot!

At the time of writing, I'm a week and a half away from an exciting and challenging trip. Round and round my mind it goes: the plans, the dreams; all those promises of excitement and the dark fears of the unknown.
Sitting on the sofa, fire burning in the grate, my friend and I are watching the footie, drinking smokey single malt Scotch.
I turn to Angel.
"Alright mate, here's one for you. Define 'adventure'."
"Define 'adventure'? Life." responds he, assuredly, after only short contemplation.
Angel was right, for just as in any true adventure, we never know what lies head in life.
Despite the best efforts of control freaks such as myself, the best of us hopefully at some point of our maturation wise up to the sad and singular truth that you can plan, predict, cross your fingers, knock on wood or pray to your god or gods, and it won't make a blind bit of difference.
Even those who dedicate their lives to living by the rules of their creed, asceticism and meditation admit that here, on this plane, you're as likely to live to the age of 107 as you are to being squashed to death by the No. 24 bus.
All we can do is try to stay up on Life's surfboard for as long as possible, while the oceans of Fate hurl us as they will, towards the inevitable crashing wave and shore.
Once we've accepted that this as as good as it gets; that all we have is the moment of consciousness we live at any given second, the significance of our pasts and futures diminish as the morning mist fades in warm sunlight.
We cannot control any of it. All we can do is use what physical, emotional and spiritual strengths we have to help us enjoy the moment.
And let's be just a little bit real here. When I say 'enjoy', I don't mean that we've got to feel like we're eating chocolate whilst writhing in rolling orgasms all day every day. It is ridiculous to aspire to the living of a life in permanent bliss. There are sad times, and there need to be tears.
But what I have found is that to 'enjoy' those difficult moments we have to learn from them; add what they bring to our souls' libraries, and move on.
So here we are, living this adventure that is Life. We're trying to make sense of it all, and often failing miserably. We're trying to live in the moment whilst constantly doing our darndest to stave off the inevitable; slow down our inexorable full speed hurtle towards death and oblivion.
All we have is the moment, that annoying little moment, and the certainty that another moment will follow.
Deep inside we know that Life is incredibly simple, and that all of the complexities we see in it are nought but our own human, cultural and societal constructs. All the stresses and strains, demands, shouldas wouldas and couldas that wear us down can sometimes make Life look far too much like hard work.
So some of us strip it back to basics, and go off on adventures.
Indeed, if you think about it, once we've accepted that life is nothing but a series of empirical unpredictable links in an inestimable chain, doesn't it make perfect sense to construct adventures, to give ourselves mini runs at life?
As Yoda Casanova would put it: Macrocosm microcosm, what is up is down.
Going on an adventure allows us to see if we can survive and even maybe thrive whilst being tested by a sudden glut of fresh experiences and challenges.
Maybe people like me and others far braver and way more worthy, feel that going on an 'adventure' amounts to little more than attending a class, (a crash course in Life 101?), where we can taste a little of the extreme within a much safer and far more controlled environment than everyday life itself ever offers us.
At this point I'd like to introduce you to a gentleman called Miles Hilton-Barber. Miles makes a living by giving inspirational and motivational talks, but that is not why he fascinates me.
In fact, as soon as I see the words 'Motivational Speaker', my spine shrinks with fear as nightmare memories of days in sales and marketing plop back into my mind like loose foul-smelling stools.
No, the reason I am fascinated by Miles Hilton-Barber is that he is an adventurer, and a blind one at that.
Last year, Miles took off from Biggin Hill Airfield in England and piloted a tiny microlight
aircraft right across the world, landing in Australia seven weeks and 13,000 miles later.
The 58 year-old flew over 19 countries and nearly froze to death when he had to climb to 12,000 feet to escape stormy weather.
Although he had a sighted pilot sitting in the rear of the aircraft in case of medical emergency, Miles flew the 100hp microlight himself, cruising at 70 knots. Through headphones, audio controls specially designed by a British company informed him of altitude, speed and navigational readings, and he input commands and alterations by typing into a keyboard strapped to his leg.
But it wasn't all about technology. My heart leapt when I first read how he responded to the world around him:
"Flying like this is a very sensual experience, because although I can see only light and darkness, I can still smell the smells coming up from the ground. Even at 5,000 feet I can smell whether I'm going over a city or a factory or a field with crops, and whether they're growing corn or wheat down there. I can also feel when we're going along the edge of a cloud, because I sense the moisture in the air, and there's a damp and musty smell."
Fantastic! I raise my glass to you, Miles Hilton-Barber, and to all the other great and famous adventurers who have inspired me throughout my life.
Adventures like climbing Everest or swimming the Channel are single-minded, simple in design and yet massive in execution.
But not all the best adventures are so simple. Next week I will explain what mine will be; where I am going and why, and you will see how sometimes, adventure is able to challenge us on many different levels.

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