Tag Archives: Risk Taking

Finding Awesome

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Amy_Christensen

Amy Christensen

Amy Christensen wants you to find your awesome. We all have one–a place where we can tap into our best selves, the goals most inline with that self we sometimes neglect. Life is pretty full of noise these days. If you’re anything like me, you might be wondering how to peel back some of that superfluous white noise and tap into that awesome place we found that one time way down in the depths of the Grand Canyon (or while on that long sailboat crossing, or on that multi-day backpacking trip, or that ski hut trip in BC you took a few years back, or even that yoga retreat you took last year). Hopefully you’ve tapped into your awesome already and know that it’s there. If you haven’t, that’s okay too. Because it’s waiting patiently for you to find it. (Hint: you’re not going to find it on Facebook or Tumblr or even Twitter. This is your true awesome, not the airbrushed one we sometimes like to portray).

Amy is a personal coach, and she encourages you to find your inner awesome by helping you push your boundaries. Her website, Expand Outdoors, offers a plethora of advice and encouragement to quiet the noise and find your best self.  She recently offered a contest for the reader that came up with the best name for her inner gremlin. That’s the little monster inside telling you that you can’t, that you’re not good enough, that no one is going to read your book or cares about your radio show. I named mine L’il Kim, because a) I’ve always wanted to use that moniker and b) because my little gremlin thinks she’s funny.

Amy also names our excuses–she calls them

Expand Outdoors

Expand Outdoors

Monday Morning Excuses–and offers advice on getting over the hump. Whenever you need a little jolt, these little snippets are like hearing the sound of the ice cream truck on a hot summer day. You didn’t even know you were craving a Captain Kool or Fudge Bomb Pop until you heard the faint sound of circus music echoing through your neighborhood. Then it’s like–Bam!–there’s the ice cream man and suddenly you’re licking the chocolate stream running down your arm and it’s nothing but pure awesome.

That’s what Amy helps you find again.

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I’m talking with Amy this week on The Edge. Please stop by for a listen. The show goes live on Wednesday at 8 am Pacific, but you can click on the link anytime after it airs to listen to it anytime. Like right now. Just click the link now and catch up on old shows you might have missed. The show is still in pilot now, and soon will be up for renewal. The more listeners the better, so you get my drift. Just click the link.

The Risk/Reward Calculus

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As a ski patroller, I mitigate risk for a living. Whether on the edge of a groomer or the top of an avalanche path, my job is to reduce the risk for the skiing public. Perhaps that explains my fascination with the  risk/reward calculus in action sports. What started a few months ago as a suggestion from a good friend, (“Hey Kim, maybe you should write your next book on risks, and why people take them!”) has transformed into an all-out obsession. My research has taken me from psychology to neurology to the stories of amazing athletes pushing themselves to the very edge. Now, everywhere I look, people are talking about risk. It is like the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, also known as the red-car phenomenon, when you encounter a previously obscure piece of information and start seeing it everywhere.

Avalanche Basin

The light fading in Avalanche Basin

Friday, as I headed to the top of the King at the end of the day to sweep, I ran into a group of snowboarders preparing to drop into Avalanche Basin. Since it was the end of the day, and I was sweeping Southback, I explained to them that I would watch them all drop in and make sure they made it out the bottom before continuing on. None of them had ever skied Southback, and I observed their decision-making skills.

A few of them were tired from the hike and traverse. These ones were ready to drop-in and get to the bottom before it got dark. The best snowboarder of the group noticed the alpenglow surrounding Mt. Rainier. He seemed calm and prepared as he checked his line and smoothly dropped in. I asked the rest if they’d ever ridden this line. None of them had. I offered some beta on the various drop-in points, and waited for them to strap in. One of them laughed nervously. Another one seemed to obsessively check the screen of his POV camera, making sure it was on.

The visibility worsened as the sun disappeared behind a cloud. It would be totally dark in less than forty-five minutes. One by one the group dropped in. They waited carefully for each one to appear at the bottom of the chute and move to a safe location at the bottom.

Even though they appeared like newbies, they knew enough to go one at a time, to wear shovel packs and to check each area before dropping. As they prepared to to drop in, I watched them calculate the risk versus the reward. The rewards were big: three untracked chutes above an open fan with about 8″ of new snow. The risks, as always in the mountains, were many and varied. That 8″ of snow was sitting on a firm bed surface. Somewhere between the bed surface and the new snow was a layer of surface hoar. The visibility and the temperature were dropping. And now we had less than thirty minutes of daylight.

I love it when the rewards outweigh the risk

I love it when the rewards outweigh the risk

Three boarders remained. One, who I’d been following since the Throne saddle, waiting as he stumbled along the trail, expending twice as much energy as necessary, looked at me. His jacket was unzipped to his collar bone, and steam rose from his skin. “What’s below here?” He asked again. I explained the terrain carefully, then added, “this chute is the biggest. It’s the easiest way down.”

“The easiest way?”

I nodded, not that there is an easy way down Avalanche Basin, I pointed out. But of all the options, this one right here was the least risky.

He nodded and zipped up his jacket. I could see him doing the risk/reward calculus in his mind. He must have also considered his options. At this point, there weren’t many. It was too late to hike back out. To go any further would only mean he’d surely be riding out in the dark. It was now or never.

He was the last to drop in, and he carved a broad but respectable turn across the top of the chute. The snow rippled around his knees and sprayed onto his torso. It was a good thing he zipped up that jacket. I heard several whoops and hollers and continued my hike to the top of the King, glad I’d put fresh batteries in my headlamp.

Sometimes the rewards outweigh the risks. These are the good days, the lucky days, the days when six friends can end their day with one last run in Southback. But other times the risks are too high, and we hope we’ve built the judgment to know the difference. On those days, we back off. We stand further away from the cornice, we choose a safe line down. We exercise our judgment, which is the single-most important tool in the mountains.

A few minutes later, I stood on top of the King and attached my headlamp to my helmet. The gray light was fading fast. I hollered one last time into Silver Basin, “closing!” and listened to the wind. I was the only one out here. Everyone else had gone home. After a minute, I dropped in and glided home too.

Off The Grid in Indonesia

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The view from Heaven

When I spent an hour on the phone with my cellular company a few weeks ago to ensure that my phone would work while in Lombok, a small island east of Bali, the woman assured me that it would. Of course, she warned, I would incur steep fees. “Indonesia is a very long way away,” she said. As if I didn’t know this. As if, somehow, I’d miss this fact.

I’m not really sure why I’d bothered with the phone. At that point, I had still planned on bringing along my computer. I would bring my computer and my phone and maybe my own wireless internet connection. Or perhaps a refrigerator. I had thought I could lug it all with me to this small village in Southeast Lombok, without water or power, with a perfect, lonely surf break lapping at its shore and get some work done.

As if.

In the end I didn’t bring my computer. Instead, I brought a notebook and pens, and figured I could work on my book in long hand. I never even turned my phone on.

If looks could kill

There are monkeys in Lombok. Macaq monkeys the size of small dogs. I’m not sure if macaqs steal things, if they like to finger smooth ballpoint pens in their hands, imagining what they could do with their thumbs, but I’m pretty sure they took most of my pens.

“You should write about my husband.” We are sitting at the bar, drinking our who-knows-how-many-th Bintang Beer (my new favorite saying: “its Bingtang Time!”). I can still hear the faint keening sound of the afternoon call to prayer. Lombok, unlike its busy neighbor to the west, is Muslim.

“He’s a risk taker.” The new couple hadn’t event checked into their room yet. After only a few days at Heaven on the Planet (that’s the actual name of the resort) my husband and I were part of the welcoming committee. This new couple would join us for dinner around the communal table that night. I had just told the wife about my new book project on risk taking. She asked me if I was getting much work done while on vacation.

“No,” I smiled. “Not at all.” That wasn’t entirely true. Writing a book is like searching through the cushions of a very frilly sofa, fingering the piping and reaching way down behind for stray coins. It doesn’t all happen on the page. There’s an investigation that goes along with it. Call it research. I want to examine why people take risks–namely in the thrill seeking realm–and try to figure out my own fascination with risk taking. You could call this trip research. I’m not a good surfer, and yet here we are halfway across the world to surf this break that most people have never heard of. 

We talked about the coming swell. How it was supposed to rise; rumors of big surf circled around the open bar/restaurant/library like sharks. Now that the waves were coming, more surfers arrived. Not that the waves weren’t already plentiful. But the really big ones, the pushy barrels, those would arrive tomorrow. Everyone was sure of it.

The next morning, I arose early and sat in front of the bungalow, watching the swell wrap around the headland onto the beach. I couldn’t find a pen. Hadn’t I brought, like, ten pens? I wanted to write about taking risks and how I was about to do just that in a few hours when I went surfing. Surfing was risky, no question about it. I’m not really a water person, that is unless the water is in the form of snow. Still, we were here, and I planned to surf.

Monkeys surrounded the bungalow. One, a large male, climbed a nearby tree and tried to stare me down. The hotel staff recommended that you avoid eye contact with the macaqs, especially the large males. But I couldn’t help it. This one lifted his eyebrows to make his eyes look bigger. It was creepy. I wondered if he had my pens.

There is a point at which you realize the futility of your actions. A point at which you just give up looking for a pen. Pick up your surfboard and test out your theories. Before my husband and I left for this surfing-and-diving-and-dipping-my-toe-back-into-risk-taking trip in Indonesia, I was cranking on my book. He was cranking at the ski area. Getting pre-season projects finished. Making sure all the details were in place before the snow started to fall. My plan was to finish a book proposal before ski patrol duties took most of my time.

Heaven on the planet

October wouldn’t have seemed an ideal time to get off the grid and chill. But it never is. Not until you are there, sitting on a porch overlooking Ekas Bay, a long, shallow bay, known to some of the locals for its fishing, surrounded by monkeys and a rising swell, that you truly appreciate the importance of it. For your soul.

The boat deposited us in the water, a few paddle strokes from Outside Ekas. The swell was rising, but still small by local standards. That was fine enough with me. A few other surfers bobbed in the water, raising their hands in hello. In just a few short days, I’d already met everyone here: we’d drank Bintangs together and swapped stories of how we’d found out about this place. John and I waited our turn, watching the swell rise and break. The waves were inconsistent.

Am I a risk taker? I paddled into the lineup and watched a wave rise behind me. I turned and swam. This was a big wave, and I was in the prime spot to catch it. I hardly had to paddle and I was up, riding the glassy curve, my surfboard firm and solid beneath me. I was surfing. I was really surfing. In the water, Jason, one of the really great surfers at the break, smiled. He raised his fist in solidarity. That was another strange thing about this place: everyone cheered each other on.

This would be the wave by which all others were judged. I knew this before it was even over. I was on it, cutting back and forth, working the wave like a ski slope. My smile cracked my face, and the wave petered out below me. A rush of adrenaline flowed out of me and the dopamine flowed in. I was high on brain chemicals: blissed out and happy. I’m not sure if I’d call myself a risk taker. Sure, I take calculated risks, but the true thrill seekers never consider their actions risky. Paddling into a big wave is not a gamble; they know they can surf it. The trick is to tamp down the adrenaline while in the moment. Give into it and you might panic or choke. People think thrill seekers are adrenaline junkies. But that isn’t true. Most thrill seekers I’ve known work hard to keep the adrenaline in check. It’s the after-effect, the dopamine, that offers the big rewards.

As I paddled back to the waiting boat a few hours later, I had to remember to stop smiling to keep myself from swallowing water. Bliss still coursed through my veins. I caught several more waves, but none quite as good or as long or as glassy as that first. My arms and shoulders felt heavy as I pulled myself into the boat. Being off the grid in Indonesia was certainly heaven on the planet. It was Bintang time.