TALES FROM AN AD­VEN­TURESS

Carol Devine on the push and pull of an in­trepid life.

Elle (Canada) - - Special -

Ad­ven­tures stretch us and make us grow— es­pe­cially when things go awry. When I led a group of eco vol­un­teers to Antarc­tica, our ship was seized by cus­toms agents in Ar­gentina. It was stress­ful, but it was also an op­por­tu­nity to vastly im­prove my ne­go­ti­a­tion skills. When we even­tu­ally set sail, an­tic­i­pa­tion for the jour­ney ahead quickly made our dis­ap­point­ment about the de­lay float away.

Since I’m an ex­plorer, a hu­man­i­tar­ian and an ac­tivist, adventure is my way of be­ing. I de­fine it as try­ing new things— from glacier hik­ing to the med­i­ta­tion class I took de­spite my dread of sit­ting still. It’s ask­ing ques­tions and tak­ing cal­cu­lated risks. It’s mix­ing plea­sure with dis­com­fort to en­rich one’s life.

My mom is one of my adventure role mod­els. She left On­tario to teach in Ja­pan in the 1960s, when few Western­ers lived there. She es­caped partly to heal her heart. When she re­turned to Canada two years later, the beloved ex-boyfriend who had bro­ken her heart asked her to marry him. It was my dad. She taught me that ad­ven­tur­ing can have un­ex­pected ef­fects.

Grow­ing up, I was in­spired by sto­ries of women re­sis­tance fighters in the Sec­ond World War and early ex­plor­ers, par­tic­u­larly 18th-cen­tury botanist Jeanne Baret, who posed as a male sailor to be­come the first woman in the Antarc­tic ter­ri­to­ries and to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe, and Bel­gian-French ex­plorer Alexan­dra David-Néel, who dressed as a beg­gar to travel into Ti­bet in 1924, when it was for­bid­den. To­day, fe­male ex­plor­ers can do any­thing men can do—although we some­times still need to push gen­der bar­ri­ers. (And while we can wear any­thing we want when ad­ven­tur­ing, we still must con­sider both the art and science of dress­ing ap­pro­pri­ately for dif­fer­ent cul­tures and cli­mates.)

Neu­ro­science shows that leav­ing our com­fort zone nour­ishes our brains and re­la­tion­ships—and an­chors us for our next visit to our own outer lim­its. Switch­ing a route to work is ben­e­fi­cial, as is bump­ing up against dif­fer­ent peo­ple and ideas. Ac­cord­ing to re­searchers, our brain con­nec­tions need to be stretched to pro­mote con­tin­ued learn­ing, es­pe­cially as we age.

For­tu­nately, we have an in­nate ten­dency to seek new ex­pe­ri­ences. Ac­cord­ing to a Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don study, there might even be an evo­lu­tion­ary ad­van­tage to sampling the un­known. The study found that the brain’s ven­tral stria­tum, a re­ward cen­tre, ac­ti­vates when we choose un­fa­mil­iar op­tions or take a chance and likely trig­gers a dopamine re­lease.

I get a cer­tain feel­ing—an in­ner pang, or but­ter­flies— when an op­por­tu­nity comes up that si­mul­ta­ne­ously fright­ens and ex­cites me. Some peo­ple ex­pand their com­fort zones more eas­ily than oth­ers, but stud­ies show that trekking to the edge of our own ex­pe­ri­ence gives us con­fi­dence and per­spec­tive.

For me, the best ad­ven­tures mix con­tri­bu­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion. I took a job as a field worker (and later as pro­gram direc­tor) for Médecins Sans Fron­tières be­cause I be­lieve ev­ery­one should have med­i­cal care. Be­fore I left on my mission to Rwanda in 1996, I sought ad­vice for man­ag­ing dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. Dur­ing a pre-de­par­ture course, a doc­tor who was head­ing to Bos­nia as­sured me that the odds we’d both re­turn home safely were ex­cel­lent. I still value her wis­dom on how to bal­ance fear and fear­less­ness. We should em­brace op­por­tu­ni­ties like this by pre­par­ing, be­ing alert and mit­i­gat­ing risks in­stead of cling­ing to the “same­ness” that can de­ter us from dis­cov­er­ing our unique selves. Rwanda shaped me. I wit­nessed the im­pact of heinous crimes against hu­man­ity but also learned about courage and re­silience.

Not all ex­pe­di­tions need to be quite this ex­treme or far-flung—there’s a huge range of “vol­un­tourism” op­por­tu­ni­ties out there that can pro­vide a smaller dose of pur­pose­ful ad­ven­tures. I’m thrilled about h

the grow­ing trend of “mi­croad­ven­tur­ing,” which Bri­tish ad­ven­turer and au­thor Alas­tair Humphreys is pop­u­lar­iz­ing as a way to en­cour­age peo­ple to get out­side and into the wild—how­ever you de­fine that. He de­scribes a mi­croad­ven­ture as “close to home, cheap, sim­ple, short and yet very ef­fec­tive.” Th­ese free or low-cost out­ings could in­clude go­ing on an ur­ban hike in your city or to a place near your home that you’ve never been. In ge­og­ra­pher Alas­tair Bon­nett’s book Un­ruly Places: Lost Spa­ces, Se­cret Cities and Other In­scrutable Ge­ogra­phies, he writes about brav­ing sev­eral lanes of traf­fic to ex­plore the iso­lated patch of grass in a traf­fic is­land in New­cas­tle, Eng­land, that he passes dur­ing his daily com­mute.

I made ad­ven­tur­ing af­ford­able by mak­ing it my work—I’ve co-writ­ten a book about my Antarc­tic cleanup trip ( see “Food: Try an Ed­i­ble Ex­pe­di­tion”), and I’m now a strate­gic ad­viser for the Mu­seum of AIDS in Africa. When I had kids, my wan­der­lust didn’t dis­ap­pear. While I wasn’t up for trips to con­flict zones, I started do­ing re­search, writ­ing and ex­plor­ing at closer range, as well as some short-term jobs in Africa and South Amer­ica. I still yearned to try new things and meet new peo­ple. So, with a friend, I did a fundrais­ing “dare” to try nine new sports. This in­tro­duced me to “sub­cul­tures” in my own city, such as speed skat­ing and ac­ro­bat­ics us­ing aerial silks. I learned the hard way—and with great hu­mil­ity—that I’m bet­ter at archery than aeri­als. And I dis­cov­ered you can take archery lessons in a beau­ti­ful his­toric barn at Casa Loma in Toronto. Who knew?

I also be­lieve that na­ture is a tonic. We are living on a frag­ile planet in an age of dis­e­qui­lib­rium. Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have found that there are men­tal and phys­i­calh

health benefits to be­ing out­side. Out­door ex­plo­ration helps battle what Amer­i­can writer Richard Louv calls “na­ture-deficit dis­or­der,” a re­sult of our in­creas­ingly in­door, screen-filled lives. Ac­cu­mu­lat­ing more mem­o­ries than things is a beau­ti­ful quest for us in­di­vid­u­ally and for hu­man­ity.

I like the adage that you’ll be more dis­ap­pointed by what you didn’t do than what you did. I re­gret turn­ing down the op­por­tu­nity to work on women’s health in Afghanistan in my 20s. I re­gret hang­ing on to one tough hu­man­i­tar­ian job so long that it nearly burned me out. What don’t I re­gret? Say­ing no some­times; it leaves space to open an­other door. Like skate­board­ing, which I started at 42. I adore it—even though, when I was out with my son one time, I broke my an­kle. It was painful, but I can laugh about it now.

Ad­ven­tur­ing is a mus­cle I must ex­er­cise through­out life. My next jour­ney is to the Arc­tic Ocean. I’m keen to know about north­ern peo­ples, cul­tures and wis­dom. In Au­gust 2015, I’m join­ing civil­ians clean­ing garbage from the shores of Spits­ber­gen, a Nor­we­gian is­land. Although one­off stew­ard­ship ef­forts like this can’t change the world, they have a rip­ple ef­fect. Ad­ven­tures prom­ise knowl­edge, friend­ships and dis­cov­ery in­side and out­side of your­self.

“I want adventure...I want some­thing to shake me out of my com­fort zone—it just re­minds you that you’re alive.”

– Re­becca Tay­lor “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most peo­ple ex­ist, that is all.” – Os­car Wilde

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