Why Outdoor Adventurers are Willing to Take the Risk
By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer
(Idaho) – Watching the exploits of risktakers, most of us focus on the risk itself. What, we ask, could possess a person to jump from a plane, climb Mt. Everest, or careen down wild rapids?
Risktakers try to explain, usually without success, that it’s not about the risk.
In her new book, “Anything Worth Doing,” outdoor writer and former whitewater raft guide Jo Deurbrouck sheds light on what it is about, at least for one breed of risktaker. She focuses on the true story of Clancy Reece, a larger-than-life figure in Idaho rafting in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Reece loved rivers, fishing and freedom. His favorite saying, intended both ironically and seriously, was “anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
“Everest got climbed, so now people have to come up with a different way—without oxygen, or faster, or by a harder route. Clancy Reece and his friend, Jon Barker, weren’t going to just travel the Salmon River, the river they loved most. That happens every day. They were going to interact with that river in ways most of us would be fools to even consider,” says Deurbrouck.
In Deurbrouck’s extensively researched book, readers meet a pair of introverts who were happiest ‘overdoing’ on rivers. Unlike most adventure writers, however, Deurbrouck doesn’t focus on the men’s goals or how they achieved them. Instead, she sets the reader’s feet squarely into these men’s sandy, wet shoes. Her question, asked against the backdrop of their river exploits, their lives, and the admiring stories of their friends, is this: What is it like to be so passionate about rivers and wilderness? What is it like to be so competent that exploits that look foolhardy are (almost) safe? What is it like to be so fiercely committed to freedom?
With the help of interviews, extensive video recordings, and journals kept by these two mavericks, Deurbrouck offers readers a chance to experience lives shaped by harsh and simple bargains, instead of the complexity and compromise that characterizes life for most.
Other books offer similar windows. Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” details the author’s trek across the United States to try to understand a privileged, bright young man who had dropped out of his life, given his money to charity, traveled across the country under an assumed name, and finally walked into the Alaskan wilderness woefully unprepared. There the boy had died.
Even more generous in its ability to share a passionate risktaker’s mindset is “The Spirit of St. Louis,” by early aviator Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh, a barnstorming pilot in the early days of aviation, fought to design and fund the construction of a plane that could carry him from New York to Paris. He completed his historic flight in 1927 and won a Pulitzer for his book about the voyage in 1954.
Not coincidentally, “The Spirit of St. Louis” is one of Jon Barker’s favorite books. But Lindbergh was unusual beyond his passion for flight. As reviewer Brendan Gill wrote, “The best authority on Lindbergh is Lindbergh.” Lindbergh understood himself well enough to share the experiences of flying vast distance, without instruments, in a tiny, experimental plane. Most mavericks and risktakers grow frustrated with their own explanations long before we understand what it’s like to be them. They resort to empty lines like Mallory’s famous response to questions about why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, the mountain he would later die on: “Because it’s there.”
In Clancy Reece’s journal about his voyage from the headwaters of the Salmon River to the Pacific Ocean some 900 miles away, Deurbrouck found this passage, a significant improvement over “Because it’s there”: “… The idea here: ride the flow of the river from a little brook in a Rocky Mountain meadow, where beaver dams and barb wire fences can span the flow and stand against the high waters of spring, all the way to the big salty. As far as I know, no one has ever done this. Big deal. I haven’t done this. That matters!”
To Clancy, a trip that might sound foolish, perhaps even impossible, is necessary and far less risky than it might be for others. “Both of these men were super competent, almost amazingly capable. Their success can in large part be credited to that skill, but also to their determination,” says Deurbrouck.
The same can be said about the other journeys profiled in the book. Except for the last one. What went wrong there? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Since its 2012 release, “Anything Worth Doing” has been praised by a surprising range of literary voices, from adventure writer Doug Ammons to literary novelist and professional curmudgeon David James Duncan. Pulitzer finalist and Pen Award winner Kim Barnes, author of “In the Kingdom of Men,” called the book “a true drama whose characters will break your heart with their dreams, courage, vulnerability, and absolute determination to live life on their own terms, no matter the cost.”
"This is an intricately researched, tension-filled, riveting tale,” wrote Chris Dombrowski for the “Missoula Independent.”
“Anyone who has ever sung along buzzed to the Old Crow Medicine Show line, 'If I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free' will love this story, as will anyone who has ever known and been quickened by the feral spirits of wild people in love with wild places, and anyone who has ever sat beside a river and pondered the water's beauty and brute strength, and anyone who wants to be transported by a landscape and a story rooted in the physical world."
“Anything Worth Doing” is available wherever fine books are sold. Find the book online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Indiebound.org, and via the book’s website, www.anythingworthdoing.com. The print book retails for $15. DRM-free E-pub versions sell for $9.99.
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