February 14, 2007
I was doing a presentation for a grade four class today at Elbow Valley Elementary School. I was having a hard time believing in what I was telling the kids. To be honest with you, I felt like a total fake. What the hell am I doing here, and what I am trying to impress upon these kids when I don't really know the first thing about going across a ocean in a 30 inch wide boat. I felt like a fool.
Andrew Mcauley is still missing and I am really bummed out. There is a photo in a New Zealand paper of his wife sitting by the side of his empty kayak weeping.
It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. There is also a photo of Andrew with his 3 year old son Finlay. He wanted to know how daddy was going to get home if he fell out of his kayak. This whole thing with Andew is weighing very heavy on me - it adds a ton of perspective to how I view this Pedaltheocean expedition.
During our question and answer session, one of the kids asked me why I do these things - why I built a human powered vehicle and set a 24 hour distance record, and why I am willing to face the risks to break the 43 day Atlantic crossing record in a tiny human powered boat.
He stumped me.
I couldn't answer his question. I knew the answer of course, but that answer had no words - none of my immediate thoughts about the simple and quite obvious question "why" would translate to English. I just stood there for a moment, smiled and said 'well, there is an old saying and it is, if you have to ask the question, then you wouldn't understand the answer". The boy smiled and immediately understood.
Suddenly, I felt a bit less like a fool.
Obviously, the answer to "why" isn't simple. If early adventurers weren't willing to explore what lay across the ocean, we wouldn't be living here in North America and the earth would still be flat. We need adventurers - in some way, they advance the human race. Some could argue that a crossing of the Tasman sea isn't doing anything to further our greater cause, but I am certain that Christopher Columbus was using technology and techniques that were developed by others who had less ambitious goals. Or perhaps I should say, had equally ambitious goals, but relative to a different time.
And then, there are the personal reasons. To push our boundaries and explore what we are made of, to test and expand our personal limits, and to motivate and inspire others to do the same. When you think you can accomplish something difficult, your confidence develops from what others before you have achieved. We feed on inspiration from our brothers and sisters in the human family. I believe it is our duty to make deposits to the inspiration bank when, where and however we can.
After the presentation, Matt filmed some kids chanting "Human Power Rocks!!!" to the video camera. I realized that if you want to make a difference in the world - you have to get people to listen to you. Breaking world records and ocean crossing expeditions give you a stage. No kid wants to be lectured about the obesity epidemic and physical inactivity from some grownup with a science degree. The speaker has to be someone they respect with a message they might be able to relate to. I'm still working on the message delivery, but I think it's slowly getting better and my warning about the health problems caused by physical inactivity just might be pushing through - who knows.
When I asked ocean rower and adventurer Leven Brown how he was dealing with Andrews death he counseled "I guess that's just the price we pay for living a life less normal."
I'm feeling a little better. Have a fantastic week and if you get the chance, don't forget to make a deposit to the bank of inspiration.