My hiking partner and I were somewhere above 10,000 feet. We had made it to the saddle of the continental divide in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The half-way point. About five hours into a nine hour up-and-over hike from Crested Butte to the Maroon Bells on the Aspen side. A trail known for its brilliant Spring flowers and its gentle, almost easy, sloping ascent. And as we sat on the ledge, at the summit of our achievement, rather than feeling relieved, I was terrified. Terrified because I had a secret. Deep within my backpack, next to a tiny bottle of Champaign, was a box containing all of my hopes and dreams. My future lay in that box. And though I’d been down this road before: a two-time loser. This one felt different. This one mattered. My heart was beating so hard in my chest I was worried it’s echoes would ricochet across the Rockies and set off an avalanche. My stomach turned in so many knots, I wasn’t sure if it was altitude sickness or a high-altitude hangover. I was terrified because in that box was an engagement ring, and I was going to propose to an Adventure Woman.
So, what is an “Adventure Woman”? Some guys like Business Women. Others like Party Girls. Some are attracted to Bookish Homebodies. It seems everybody is attracted to a certain “type”. I don’t say that to be disparaging, or to reduce women to some stereotypical base common denominator, but I say it because, we homo sapiens are hardwired to look for a mate. And it starts with looking for a complimentary type. And those types go both ways. Men collect labels too. The Bad Boy. The Momma’s Boy. The Jock. The Nerd. There are any number of words to reduce someone down to their elemental form. But, the Adventure Woman is unique among all these stereotypes, and not simply because I fell in love with one.
For many years my own type vacillated wildly. As a kid I was firmly stuck in the Nerd category. In highschool I played at being a Jock only to watch puberty pass me by. I compensated for being a late-bloomer by becoming a Clown. Then, a Loner. University came and I became a Party Animal. A Smoker. A Drinker. A Pot-Head. And as the years passed, I tried on many hats. Many types. I cultivated the type of personality I wanted to be. Through relationships and adventures, through mistakes and triumphs, I slowly morphed into the man I am today. I like to think I’m an honest, fun, and dependable friend. That I try to practice patience, compassion and respect with all my interactions. And although I sometimes fail, I try. And I guess that’s worth something isn’t it? Afterall, we all like to think we’re greater than the sum of our parts. And that we are so much deeper than the skin we live in. But, the reality is, we are all quite basic. Defined by our life’s passions and work. And because of that, I guess if I had to pick a type for myself it would be, “Outdoorsman”.
I am an Outdoorsman who fell in love with an Adventure Woman. And that is both terrifying and exhilarating. My biggest fear is not whether she is a good woman, but whether or not I am a good enough man. Because Adventure Women set the bar very high. And every day she inspires me to reach up higher to join her.
So. What are those qualities that make an “Adventure Woman”? Well. After travelling around the world with one for the last three years I think I can say.
An Adventure Woman is FEARLESS. How do I know this? Because, before I met her, she had moved from Spain to New Zealand. She bought a one way ticket, waved adios to her family and friends, and set off into the great unknown. That in itself is not a major feat, but the fact that she did it with only the most basic understanding of English is impressive. It takes a certain level of moxie to do that. To set aside your reservations and confront your fears head on. To voluntarily put yourself well outside your comfort zone and try to make a living when you’re struggling with a language and a culture you don’t understand. To do all this and keep your sense of humour and a sense of personal identity? I think it speaks volumes. That spirit of fearlessness, is what makes her an Adventure Woman. And that fearlessness is something that motivates and inspires me everyday.
An Adventure Woman is PATIENT. After travelling the world with her non-stop for six months I only saw her lose her patience once. Once! And even that was understandable. We were camping on some tiny, no-name lake in the shadow of Yellowstone National park. We had pitched our tent for the night and were preparing for dinner as the sun went down, when we were attacked. A swarm of mosquitos, that I can only describe as biblical, set upon us. They bit us with such fervor, I thought park rangers would find nothing but our hollowed out corpses drained of all blood in the morning. She got so angry at those blood-sucking fiends that she unleashed a torrent of Spanish curse words so intense I swear I saw subtitles. She threw her drink down in disgust with such force she shattered her wine glass. And here’s what’s interesting: the wine glass was actually plastic. She shattered a plastic cup. Do you know how pissed off you have to be to shatter a plastic cup?!? She marched into the tent and didn’t return the rest of the evening. That was it. That was the only time in three years I’ve seen her lose her patience. There were countless occasions where she could’ve lost her cool. Either at the situation or at me, and she never did. She has cultivated a Zen-like patience borne of innumerable tramps, world travels, and difficult situations.
An Adventure Woman is COMPASSIONATE. I know this because of cows. Cows that invaded our campsite in Crested Butte, Colorado. We were staying at a place called, Oh-Be-Joyful, and we were settling in for a quiet evening when a local rancher decided to run his free range herd through our valley. A thousand head of cattle wandered through our campsite mooing, trampling gear and shitting everywhere. And while my initial reaction was of annoyance and irritation, hers was of compassion. Love for the animals. Love for the experience. Love for life. And that compassion was contagious. I put aside my own feelings and lived a moment through her eyes. And what a beautiful vision it was. We sat on a log and watched the sun set on a herd of cows as they attempted to cross the Slate River. It was like a domesticated version of one of David Attenborough’s African wildebeest migrations. And it was amazing. The mother cows called and cajoled their calves to follow. While the timid little calves would eye the river with suspicion and curiosity. I watched her watching those cows with such joy, my heart hurt it was so full of love. I learned that for an adventure woman, compassion makes the world a deeper, more harmonious place.
An Adventure Woman is TOUGH. There are any number of a thousand different stories I could tell you about this quality. The time a hydraulic moving ramp squashed her toe and then she kept working for the next 8 hours. Or the time I was shattered and useless hiking the Lake Waikaremoana trail, and watched as she literally hiked circles around me. But the time I remember most was the day on the Madison River in Montana when we were drifting down a set of rapids and she had to jump out to stop the raft. I was on the oars and doing a piss-poor job of it. The water was pushing us past the landing point, and we had to get the boat in or be swept two miles down river. She was able to jump overboard and dig in against the current. She pulled the boat to a stop as her shins and feet were assaulted by boulders and rocks. They scratched and tore at her legs as we got dragged along by the ice cold water. I’m sure she was scared in that moment, but she was so incredibly tough the way she leaned against the current and anchored the entire boat, swinging it back up against the shoals. All I could do was yell incomprehensible directions and flounder around wildly with the oars, and watch in awe as she saved the day. A superhero. An Adventure Woman is tough as hell.
An Adventure Woman is SPIRITUAL. She always takes a moment to appreciate the cosmic picture. The greater significance. Whether it was surrounded by the hoodoos in Bryce National Park, or peering up at the giant sandstone bridges of Arches National Park. Whether it’s enjoying the tranquility of a hidden cove near Waiheke, or the unspoilt turquoise beauty of Nelson beaches. In all of our adventures around the world, she’s always been able to take a moment and reflect. To appreciate and connect to the deeper meaning behind a natural wonder. It grounds her, and inspires her and makes her a deeper woman. I love seeing her in those moments. Watching from afar so that I don’t disturb her. I watch as peace seems to fill her soul. The world slows down. Her movements seem to take on greater significance. Life becomes a beautiful dance, and for the moment she is the world’s prima ballerina. She just takes it all in. The oneness of the world. And to see that tranquility wash over her is transcendent. Because that is the ultimate goal of all these adventures. To become a better human being and to connect deeper to the world around us.
And lastly, an Adventure Woman is HUMBLE. And to me that is the most impressive quality of all. Because, even though she is fearless, patient, compassionate, tough and spiritual; she would never think that she has any of these amazing gifts. And she would certainly never brag about herself or her achievements. And that’s why I’m writing this and she is not. Because, I need to brag for her. So I can tell the whole world how amazing she is and how lucky I am to have her in my life. So I can tell the world we climbed up and over a mountain in the Colorado Rockies, just to see the flowers and to breathe the thin, clean air.
So, now you see why I was terrified as we sat there, somewhere above 10,000 feet in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. I wasn’t terrified because of the height, or the weather, or the danger, or the chance of falling. I was terrified because I know Adventure Women don’t really need silly little men like me. They can conquer the world all on their own. But I dug out the ring anyway. Just a little topaz trinket ring bought somewhere on the coast of Spain. I got down on one knee, careful not to fall off the cliff, and I popped the question.
And I suppose, now, the true adventure begins. Because it’s been a year since she said “yes” on that windy, high plateau. And now we have a baby on the way. And my only regret is that we didn’t climb higher. So that I could shout from the top of the world. I would sing the praises of Adventure Women.